This next blog series will talk about the flora and fauna of Mauritius. Some of them are endemic, i.e. they are native to Mauritius and are exclusively found on the island, and nowhere else. Others are indigenous i.e. are native to Mauritius, but can also be found elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Others have been introduced throughout the various colonial periods and by the botanists that lived or visited Mauritius. Parts I and II will relate to flowers and plants, while Parts III and IV will talk about birds and animals.
This first blog is about endemic and indigenous flowers and plants. Currently, it is estimated that there are about 691 species of plants in Mauritius, of which about half of them (about 273) are endemic, which means they are unique to the island. About 150 other species are indigenous, that is, we shared them with other islands of the Mascarene Archipelago, namely Reunion and Rodrigues.
Some historical facts…
When Mauritius was discovered in the 17th century, it was covered by primitive forest, which was progressively destroyed for agricultural purposes (mainly to cultivate sugar cane, imported from Java by the Dutch) and to make place for human settlement.
Today, native forests occupy less than 2 per cent of our total land area. These forests are found on mountain ridges, on the Offshore Islets and in Black River Gorges and Bras D’Eau National Parks. This is where the last habitats of our endemic flora and fauna are found. Despite being preserved by national parks, their ecosystem are still extremely fragile and are constantly under threat, notably by invasive species, such as Chinese guava (Psidium cattleianum) and the ravenale imported from Madagascar ((Ravenala madagascariensis).
Endemic and indigenous flowers of Mauritius
On 22 September 1977, the General Post Office released the first endemic flowers set, comprising of 4 postage stamps, namely:
- A 20cs stamp, showing the “laine à crochet” or Hugonia Tomentaso, a woody endemic climber with beautiful hairy leaves. Its golden flowers appear usually in September/ October;
- A Re. 1 stamp, illustrating the Bois Jasmin or Ochnacea, an endemic deciduous shrub which flowers copiously in December/ January. The white flowers, which usually appears before the leaves give a very attractive blossom to the forest of the plateau;
- A Rs. 1.50 stamp, picturing the Dombeya (Dombeya Acutangula Sterculianceae), a very rare indigenous rather spreading shrub which gives a nice round shape. It has pink flowers in bifid cymes, which covers the plant completely, giving it a splendid colourful appearance;
- A Rs. 5, showing the Boucle d’oreille (Trochetia Blackbumiana Sterulianceae), a low level endemic shrub, which grows on the plateau. It flowers rather profusely and in some varieties they may be straitions on the pink petals. The rather large pendulous flowers are bell shaped and look similar to earings, hence the common name “boucle d’oreille”. It is referred as the national flower of Mauritius.
The Trochetia, our national flower
The Trochetia Boutoniana, also known as Boucle d’Oreille, was declared the national flower on the 12th March 1992, when Mauritius achieved the status of Republic. Named after the famous French botanist, Louis Bouton, this endemic plant is found in only one locality in the wild. On 18 June 2003, a set of 4 postage stamps was issued featuring the Trochetia, an endemic plant to the Mascarene consisting of 6 species, out of which 5 are found in Mauritius and 1 in Reunion. All species bear a single hermaphrodite white, pink or reddish flowers, which are either single or clustered bunch of three flowers. The four stamps feature each a variety of the Trochetia found on the island.
- The Re. 1 depicts the Trochetia Boutoniana, a magnificent shrub with reddish orange flowers, found in the region of Brabant Mountain, and considered as critically endangered;
- The Rs 4 stamp shows a Trochetia Uniflora, a well-branched shrub, which bears multiple dark pink, bell shape flowers. They can be found around Trois Mamelles mountain, Le Pouce and Letard mountain and is an endangered specie;
- The Rs. 7 stamp features a Trochetia Triflora, grouped as white bell shaped flowers, in clusters of three; and
- The Rs. 9 features a Trochetia Parviflora an endangered endemic shrub, bearing a pale pink bell shaped flower facing upward. It is now confined exclusively to Corps de Garde Mountain Nature reserve.
A set of 4 postcards was also released.
On 15 January 1981, another First Day Cover was issued, showing other endemic and indigenous species. It consists of a set of 4 postage stamps, namely:
- A 25cs picturing a hibiscus (hibiscus liliflorus malvacea), a heterophyllous plant, which grows up in a bushy shrub of three to four metres tall with dark green shiny leaves. This plant was described by Cavanilles in 1789, who might have used the notes of Commerson from a specimen found in Réunion island. The colour of the flower is variable with a number of sub-species;
- A Rs. 2 depicts the Bois Manioc (Erythrospermum monticolum flacourtiacea), one of the 4 varieties found in the Mascarene Islands. It is a small tree of our native forest, with a conspicuous flaky bark, which is reddish underneath. The tree may reach up to 30 centimetres in diameter and of four to five metres in height. The white flowers appear after the summer rains and produce smooth globose fruits;
- A Rs. 2.50 representing Bois Corail (chasalia boryana rubiaceae), an endemic shrub of the widespread family rubiaceae. It is one of the most attractive of the half or so endemic species of Chasalia found on the plateau. The inflorescence is fairly conspicuous, looking like a coral growth. The fruits are of a beautiful mauve when ripe;
- A Rs. 5 represents a hibiscus (hibiscus columnans malvaceae), a rare forest tree, which is now confined to the dry slope of the Western mountains. It is a very distinct species, which does not show much compatibility of hybridisation with other hibiscus species.
In 1984, a set of 5 postage stamps was released to illustrate Mauritius palm trees. There are about 2700 species worldwide, and Mascarene islands have a few endemic species. Mauritius counts 9 indigenous palm trees, of which 7 are endemic and 2 can also be found in Reunion Island. The set comprises the following 5 species:
- A 25 cents stamp, showing the Blue Latan (Latania Loddigesii), or latanier de l’île ronde’, an endemic tree which grows to fifteen meters and has glaucous leaves, with a base covered with thick white wool.
- A 50 cents stamp, showing a Hyophorbe Vaughanii, also native to Mauritius. It is almost extinct in the wild but grown for ornamental purposes as it displays orange flowering and red fruits on a trunk up to ten meters high;
- A Rs. 2.50 stamp shows the Palmiste Bouclé (Tectiphiala Ferox), is a rarity. It grows only on Mauritius, at altitudes between 500 and 650 m, in humid and acid areas. It has such specific growing requirements that it probably is not found much outside of Mauritius. It grows to some two to nine meters (depending the source) and has long black spines that can be curled (hence the name, ‘frisé’ means curled).
- A Rs. 5 stamp, picturing the Round Island Bottle Palm (Hyophorbe Langeliscaulis). This palm tress is better known because it is grown as ornamental in many countries worldwide. This ‘palmiste bouteille, palmiste gargoulette or bottle palm’ indeed develops a funny shaped trunk up to five meters which looks like a bottle, more or less round depending on the age of the plant. It also has intriguing twisted fronds (leaves). It comes from Round Island, which is off the shores of Mauritius and has been prized since a long time
- A Rs 10 stamp, featuring a Hyophorbe Amariculis, an extremely rare palm tree, whose only remaining specimen can be found in the Curepipe Botanical garden.
The envelope cover shows a Palmiste Marron (Hyophorbe Verschaffeltii), which comes from Rodrigues Island where it grows at low elevations on calcareous soils. It also grows on Reunion, Mauritius and other places as ornamental. It has a grey trunk up to five or six meters with a strange shape as it gets thinner in the upper part just like if is was upside down.
In 2005, the Mauritius Post issued a set of four postage stamps in the “Nature” series o depict endemic fauna and flora of Round Island, a volcanic cone, and the second largest offshore islet of Mauritius. Round Island was classified as a nature reserve in 1957 and is administered by the National Parks and Conservation Services.
Rs. 8 shows a hurricane Palm, a critically endangered plant, with only one surviving individual on the island. The island has 10 endemic palm species.
The hurricane palm is also featured on the Rs. 3 stamp issued in the “Fauna and Flora series of 30 August 2013. It was first collected by Philibert Commerson around 1770. It is today the rarest palm in the world, which is difficult to reproduce in laboratories.
A wide variety of palm trees can be seen at the Pamplemousses Botanical garden, the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Famous for its long pond of giant water lilies (Victoria amazonica) shown on the Rs. 2 stamp, the garden was first constructed by Pierre Poivre (1719 – 1786) in 1770, and it covers an area of around 37 hectares. It has an amazing collection of 85 types of palm trees. Some of them form a long alley as can be seen on the 25 cents stamps. A FDC was released on 24 January 1980 with 5 postage stamps, illustrating various features of the Botanical Garden.
Coconut trees, Agalega
It is believed that the coconut trees found on Agalega (an island situated 1000 km to the north of Mauritius) are native to the island. A set of 4 postafe stamps was issued on 5 December 2001, showing the different stages of production of coconut oil in Agalega. The set comprises of :
(i) Re. 1 stamp picturing the dehusking of coconuts by a worker, which consists of removing the nut from the fibrous enveloppe. This is done by means of a special heavy spear;
(ii) Rs. 5 shows the process of deshelling of coconuts;
(iii) Rs. 6 stamp showing employees looking after the drying of copra in the kiln. The coconut flesh is brought for dying. The latter contains 30 – 40% oil, while the dried one contains 60 – 70% oil;
(iv) Rs. 10 stamps, showing the machine used for oil extraction. The copra is crushed in a bronze pestle and the oil is pressed out through a filtering sieve. The solid residue (pounac) is used as livestock feeds.
The FDC illustrates the picking of coconuts.
A set of 4 postage stamps was issued on 3 October 1986 on the theme Mauritius Orchids. Orchids are fascinating flowers with often curious shapes. This set comprises of:
- A 25 cs stamps, showing the Cryptopus Elatus, an endemic plant to the Mascarene islands. In Mauritius it is found growing in full light on the plateau. It is one of the most beautiful orchid of the island and is the emblem of the Mauritius Orchid Society. The flower spice of about 20 – 25 cms carries up to 30 white flowers of about 4 – 5 cms long. It blooms between November and January;
- A Rs. 2 stamp, which shows the Genus Jumellea, of which the greatest number of species is found in Madagascar. About 3 or 4 species are indigenous to Mauritius and they are found growing high up on trees in big clumps, in wet regions of the island. This orchid has strap-shaped dark green leaves of 12 cm long and 1 cm wide. The nice pure white fragrant flowers of about 3 cm across are of a very distinctive shape. The petals are more or less reflexed, the lateral sepals spreading and curved.
- A Rs 2.50, showing the Angraecum Mauritianum. There are many species in Africa and in neighbouring islands, the most famous being the “comète de Madagascar”. Mauritius has a dozen of species. This pure white flower is star-shaped with 5 to 7 cm long spur. The flower turns to a creamy colour after a few days;
- A Rs. 10 stamp, featuring the Bulbophyllum Longiflorum, an indigenous orchid, widely distributed in East Africa, Reunion, Madagascar, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea but very rare in Mauritius. The tawny flowers spotted with red are arranged in an umbrella-like inflorescence at the end of a fairly long stalk. The dorsal sepals of about 3cm long and petals of about 5 cm long end in a filament of about 2 – 3 cm. The plant blooms in January and February.
In 2013, a set of 3 postage stamps on Fauna and Flora included a Rs. 10 stamp, showing a native orchid (oeniella polystachys), endemic to the Western Indian Ocean Islands. This bears white flowers of about 2 – 3 cm across, blooming for 1 month. The best population is found on Ile aux Aigrettes and Bras d’Eau. The special commemorative cover below was issued on 2015 for the 35th Anniversary of the Orchid Society of Mauritius.
The Mauritius Post Ltd. issued a set of 12 Definitive Stamps on 9th April 2009 depicting beautiful indigenous flowers of Mauritius. They were issued in a set of three FDCs, each with 4 stamps.
The first FDC cover includes:
- A Rs. 3 stamp featuring the Myonima Obovata, a small indigenous shrub of mid altitude dry forests, which bears nice clusters of small pinkish flowers. The beauty of this plant lies in its juvenile leaves, where a mosaic of red, purple, green venation under a thin waxy layer catches one’s attention;
- A Rs. 6 stamp is an Elaeocarpus Bojeri, a small endemic tree now confined to only three individuals at Grand Bassin Peak, which bears long drooping inflorescence will bell-shaped whitish flowers.
- A Rs. 7 stamp shows the Bremeria Landia, a small indigenous tree of upland humid forest bearing bright white flowers at its branch tips. This plant is used by local people for medicinal purposes against fever and as a tonic drink;
- A Rs. 50, showing a Hibiscus Fragilis, a rare endemic shrub with rambling branches striving only on 2 mountains – Corps de Garde and Le Morne Brabant. It bears deep carmine striking flowers.
The second FDC shows the four following indigenous flowers:
- The Rs. 5 stamp shows a Crinum Mauritanium, an endemic lily plant discovered in the 1970s in the region of Midlands, and is now extremely rate. It bears beautiful while flowers all year round;
- The Rs. 9 stamp pictures the Gaertnera Longifolia, an endemic short tree thriving in upland humid forests. It can easily be recognised by its long leaves and its terminal white inflorescence. It remains one of the rarest Gaertnera species on the island;
- The Rs. 10 stamp features the Dombeya Acutangula, a rare indigenous flower plant found in the wild on a few mountain flanks. It is also one of the native flowering plants commonly planted in gardens and used in landscaping projects. It bears pink inflorescence;
- The Rs. 25 stamp shows a Roussea Simplex, a rare endemic shrub now found in few places like Le Pouce, Grand Bassin, Bassin Blanc, Trou aux Cerf and Combo. Its orange yellow bell-shaped flowers are conspicuous and attractive.
This third FDC features 4 plants, namely:
- A Rs. 4. stamp shows the Cylindrocline Lorencei, a short endemic shrub with pinkish composite flowers confined to one region in the wild, Plaine Champagne;
- The Rs. 8 stamp shows a Distephanus Populifolius, a rare endemic plant found only on dry exposed mountain tops, where it grows on rocky medium. It bears composite while and yellow flowers and its silvery leaves offer a perfect camouflage with its rocky surroundings.
- A Rs. 15 stamp, which features the Aphloia Theiformis, an indigenous plant with various medicinal virtues, among which diuretic. It was also used extensively against malaria. It is quite common in upland humid forests and bears tiny white flowers at the base of the leaves;
- A Rs. 22 stamp, picturing the Barleria Observatrix, an endemic shrub now confined to only Corps de Garde mountain. It bears nice small purple flowers, which are one of the most beautiful flowers of the island.
Other endemic plants
As part of the natural history series, a set of four stamps was issued on 10 March 1999 on the theme ‘endemic plants’. The set comprises of:
- A Re. 1 stamp, showing a plant commonly known as bois cabri (of the verbenacae family – clerodendron laciniatum). It is a plant found in Rodrigues bearing leaves, which are different and with pink flowers;
- A Rs. 2 stamp, which features a plant commonly known as bois chèvre, of the compositae family (senecio lamarckianus). It is a rare endemic shrub of Mauritius and grows on exposed cliffs. The tiny florets are yellow in colour;
- A Rs. 5 is another rare endemic shrub of Mauritius, known as Cylindrocline Commersonii, also of the compositae family. It has thick leaves with woolly hairs;
- A Rs. 9 stamp shows a psiadia pollicina, an endemic shrub of Mauritius, equally of the compositae family, mainly found on mountains.
The envelope cover illustrates an endangered endemic shrub from Rodrigues, known as café marron (ramosmania rodriguesii).
On 28 March 2014, a set of 3 postage stamps was issued. The Rs. 25 stamp features the pignon d’Inde, a robust tropical plant, which can live beyond a year and is drought resistant. It originates from Central America. The leaves are pale green in colour of 3 to 5 lobes of phytotaxey spirals. The fruits have a pleasant taste, but can contain toxic properties due to the presence of albuminoidal called curcin. Ingestion can give rise to digestive problems. The leaves have curative properties against angina, hemorrhage, rheumatism, piles, malaria and distended bowels. The plant is used as a support to the vanilla tree. The post card cover depicts a fruit bat hanging on the pignon d’inde tree.
In 2005, a series of four postage stamps on the fauna and flora on Round Island was released. The Rs. 25 showed a mazambron plant, an endemic plant classified as rare. It is traditionally used as a medicinal plant (see FDC above).
Mangroves play an important role in the coastal eco system of Mauritius. Two species of mangroves, Bruguiera gymnorrhiza (L.) Lam., and Rhizophora muc ronata Lam., have been identified so far. The latter species is more dominant and occurs in pure stands in most of the swamps. In 1990, a series of 5 stamps was issued. The picture on the cover and the Rs. 1 stamp shows a mangrove tree.
The year 1989 was declared Year of the Environment in Mauritius. To mark this event, the Mauritius Postal Administration issued a set of 5 postage stamps on 11 March 1989. The set comprised 5 stamps, of which, a Rs. 4 stamp, showing a fern tree. There are 2 species of indigenous tree ferns in Mauritius. These are Cyathea borbonica and Cyathea excelsa. In Mauritius, they are more commonly known as Fandia. The stem which is fibrous in nature is swollen at the base. It is an important component of the Mauritian native forest, which grows in the humid upland areas. The tree can reach a height of roughly 2 meters, with a dark, hairy, scaly trunk. Its spreading leaves are dark green fronds.
Endemic trees of Mauritius
Four postage stamps in the Natural History series were issued in 2001 to depict endemic trees of Mauritius. They consist of:
- A Re. 1 stamp showing the Bois puant/ foetidia mauritiana. The tree derives its name from ‘bois puant’ because of the strong fetid smell of its oil;
- A Rs. 3 stamp featuring the Bois d’Ebene/ Diospyros tessellaria is one of the twelve endemic species of ebony found in Mauritius. The bark is black and the wood is used to manufacture musical instruments and furniture;
- A Rs. 5 stamp, illustrating the Mangliers de Hauts/ Sideroxylon puberulum, an endemic tree common in the forest of the Mauritius plateau. The wood is strong and rot-proof;
- A Rs. 15 stamp showing the Bois d’éponge/ Gastonia mauritiana, another rare endemic tree which grows along the coastal regions.
The envelope cover illustrates the Bois Gandine (Mathurina penduliflora) a threatened endemic tree from Rodrigues.