Category Archives: Endemic plants

A natural solution to society’s problems

Children from the President's village at the Heritage Garden

Children from the President's village at the Heritage Garden

Children love being outdoors. Playing is great and is a chance to explore outside of the boundaries of the home. Not only is it fun for the kids, it’s good for them too. Scientists have discovered that children function better cognitively and emotionally in ‘green environments’, that is places with nature vegetation, than those without.  No wonder that a study of urban children discovered that 96% of them illustrated outdoor places when asked to make a map or drawing of all their favourite place.

Conversely, a lack of routine contact with nature can be detrimental to children’s health and may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This condition has been termed Nature Deficit Disorder by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Louv says we have entered a new era of city- centred life that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, Louv argues that, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt, but those who don’t develop symptoms including attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Nature Seychelles’ Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is a great local green space which we use to tackle this problem head-on. Many children have visited and enjoyed the benefits of being outdoors. The most recent was a group of twenty-five children from the Presidents Village who were brought by local company Applebys Corporate Service Limited to enjoy a taste nature last weekend.

The children were taken on a tour of the nature reserve by Martin Varley, Community and Stakeholder Action Co-ordinator, where they had chance to watch wildlife at first hand and also take part in some fun games with strong environmental messages. They were also taken round the adjacent Heritage Garden which showcases a diverse range of traditionally grown Seychelles fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs.

The experience on the reserve formed the basis of the second part of the visit which was led by Green Health Co-ordinator Robin Hanson, who used the animals on the reserve as a platform for a special natural exercise class for the children, another form of recreation with proven health and wellbeing benefits. The weather stayed kind and at the end of the morning the children were buzzing with excitement about their visit.

“We all know how good it is to be outside,” said Nature Seychelles CEO Nirmal Shah, “Kids are healthier and happier and with a good dose of exercise they can be stronger too. It’s great to be able to work with a local company like Appleby’s to provide a break for these kids from the President’s Village and show then what we have here at Roche Caiman. Everyone is a winner”.

We may not be able to prevent our children from suffering the impacts of our changing society, but it’s good to know that the remedy is close at hand.

This post first appeared in the Today in Seychelles newspaper.

From Boise with love: American students get a taste of the islands

On a tour of Cousin

On a tour of Cousin

A group of graduate and undergraduate biology students from Boise University, Idaho were recently in the Seychelles on a course to learn about the uniqueness of our islands biodiversity. They were accompanied by Profs. Marc Bechard and Massimo Pandolfi of Boise and Urbino University respectively. Prof. Pandolfi, who has a long association with Nature Seychelles, has organised similar courses in the past four years.

The course that began on Monday 10 January 2011 and lasted a week, included field activities that saw the students visit Seychelles conservation hotspots of Cousin Island Special Reserve, Curieuse Island Marine Park, Vallee de Mai, La Digue and beaches around Praslin. The visits gave students the opportunity to observe plants and animals and to collect data for assigned field projects.

The training held at our Centre on Praslin brings attention to Seychelles and is also an avenue for future collaboration. Indeed past graduates of the course have returned to the islands to visit as students – at Masters and PHD level, and have also contributed as volunteers on sites like Cousin.

Lectures on the flora and fauna of the Seychelles, its geology, human settlement history, the extinction of endemic species, and current conservation efforts to preserve the biological diversity of the Seychelles were given.

Although heavy rainfall interrupted some of the planned activities, the students were happy they made the trip. In between learning, the students found time to take in local culture.

On the trail of the Jellyfish Tree

I am always amazed at the diversity of Seychelles’ wildlife, and more so after I have been out and seen something new. The Seychelles consists of about 115 Islands of different origin accounting for the diversity that it has. Some are weathered fragments of an ancient continent, others are remains of ancient reefs while some are relatively recently exposed low islands of coral sand. Mahe, the largest of the Islands, and where most of the population of Seychelles lives, is part of a group of about 40 islands of the granitic category. Mossy tropical forests can be found on upper slopes of the granitic islands and open scrubby vegetation on lower areas.

A mountain ridge runs the length of the island of Mahe. It was to one of the hilltops of that ridge where I joined a hike on Sunday and where I saw the Jellyfish tree. The Critically Endangered and very rare Jellyfish tree is an an endemic of Seychelles, found scattered only on the exposed granite slopes of Mahe. It was thought to be extinct until a few individuals were discovered in the 1970s. The tree is now found in three sites on Mahe, which are within the protection of the Morne Seychellois National Park.

Terence had told me of the possibility of coming across the tree on this hike. Having heard of it I was keen to see it. So I joined the hike on a trail that runs on Mahe’s Mont Palmiste.

The tree gets its name from clusters of flowers, which look like an upside down Jellyfish. Its scientific name Medusagyne oppositifolia, is thought to relate to ‘Medusa’ the goddess of Greek mythology who had a head of snakes.

Seychelles Jellyfish tree

We got to one of the trees at the top of the hill. But, to see it we first had to contend with the rocky outcrops from which it grew. This particular one was in fact at the bottom of a rock. It had began to rain and the rock was quite slippery, making it quite hard to walk on it. Rather than end up on our posteriors unwillingly, we decided to use them voluntarily to slowly slide down to where the tree was. The “slide” was rewarding, not only were we within reach of one of the World’s rarest trees, but we also had a spectacular view of the beach at Port Launay below. Unfortunately the tree was not in flower, but we did get photos of its fruit (below) and a few older fruits, which upon drying up and releasing their seed (above) become red brown and open up like tiny parasols.

Jellyfish tree

The Jellyfish tree was not the only endemic plant I saw. On the way we encountered both endemic and introduced palms. Of the endemic palms we came across the Koko Maron (Creole) known as Curculigo sechellensis to science, and the Palmiste or Millionaire’s Salad (Deckenia nobilis), so called because historically the Palmiste’s growing tip was shredded and eaten as millionaire’s salad. The palm is now protected by law because removal of the tip kills it. Now most “millionaire’s salads, it is said, are made from tips of Coconuts. The Thief Palm, Phoenicophorium borsigianum, whose leaves are used traditionally as thatching is perhaps the commonest and therefore the one we saw frequently. In total, Seychelles has six endemic palms.

The trail was also chockfull of tree-ferns and mosses. We passed under a Seychelles Tree Fern, the only fern with a tall stem. This trail was truly an exciting one, in just a few hours, it had given up a number of endemics.

Our plant dines on insects, scientists find one that eats rats!

My first thought when I came across my first picture of the Seychelles pitcher plant, Lalyann Potao in Creole,  was, “what is that funny looking plant?”. I quickly reached for my Wildlife of Seychelles to get some ID. Monkey cups? Totally hooked on the name, I decided to do some digging (not of the plant!). It turns out the picture was of the carnivorous Nepenthes pervillei, an endemic Liana of Mahe, Silhouette and Praslin in Seychelles. There are none in Africa so I had never seen one. Here in the Seychelles the best stands of pitcher plants are found on some high hills of Mahe and especially in the mist forests of Silhouette.

Seychelles pitcher plant

Seychelles pitcher plant

The “cups”, arising from  leaves when they are young, are insect traps that provide the plant with additional nutrients. They are deep lidded containers with nectar-producing organs around the lip to attract ants and other invertebrates. The lids prevent the cups from filling with rain water, but its also a seduction device, attracting insects with its bright colours. The pitchers can get up to 20cm long. Because the inner surfaces are smooth, the unfortunate insects fall into the liquid in the lower pitcher and drown! Cells lining  the pitcher produce digestive chemicals which absorb nutrients from the liquid.

giant pitcherThe BBC reports that scientists have found a new species of pitcher plants that eats rats! Details of the discovery were published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society earlier this year. The newly discovered giant pitcher Nepenthes attenboroughii – named after British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough – was found in the highlands of the central Philippines. Nepenthes is primarily an Asian genus; the Seychelles endemic is one of the westernmost outlying species. The scientists described it as “among the largest of all carnivorous plant species… which catch not only insects, but also rodents as large as rats”.

Am sure I am not the only one who wants to watch this happen, in slo mo

More Reading: Pitcher plant: a taste for flesh at our website