New Caledonia: a Botanist’s Paradise

Wednesday 11th of March 2020, 05:20 PM (3 months from now)

Contact: Gretchen Brownstein | brownsteing@landcareresearch.co.nz

Speaker: Peter Johnson, Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research.

“A Botanist’s Paradise”: so-claimed in an interpretation panel at the Noumea Aquarium. Indeed: a challenging Paradise for a young NZ botanist visiting New Caledonia 40 years ago, accompanying a group of NZ entomologists. My role was to collect plants of interest to the insect people, and get identification help from the resident (French) botanists. This had the additional challenge of understanding, for example, that ‘Not-a-far-goose’ was Nothofagus (5 spp. there). New Caledonia has a flora of some 3000 taxa, compared with c. 2400 in NZ, being mostly woody spp. of rainforest, dry forest, maquis (ultramafic shrubland), and savannah (mostly niaouli, a Melaleuca).

In 1978 I had a camera for black-and-white film, and another for a strict ration of 35mm colour slides. Revisiting New Caledonia in 2019 with a digital camera allowed for many more snapshots, even if winter meant a limited number of plants in flower. But more than enough for a picture show: some of the 13 spp. of Araucaria, one of the 95 Pittosporums, the only other (non-NZ) Xeronema, bracken fern that looks like bracken, filmy ferns that are not quite familiar … and so on. Landscapes of misty montagnes, hillsides affected by mining, machetes, and the matchbox, localities with names like Riviere Bleue, Mont Koghi, and Dumbea. Plus road-signs, graffiti, markets, and cuisine … all in French. Join me for a travelogue. Warning: we’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road.