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.
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.
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.