Endemic Species of Seychelles

The Seychelles has a wide range of ecosystems from sea level arid scrub, through lowland intermediate and mist forests, to arid mountain top ‘Inselbergs’.

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This brief overview of some enigmatic endemic flora especially Palms and Pandanus is adapted from the ‘Guide to Endemic Palms and Screw-pines of Seychelles Granitic Islands’ by Denis Matatiken & Didier Dogley

Endemic Palms

Palms belong to one of the most economically important families in the plant kingdom. They are usually long-lived, woody monocotyledons that are solitary or clumping in growth habit. They bear a distinctive crown of leaves, producing unisexual or bisexual flowers and reproduce by seeds. Their morphological diversity is greater than that of any other monocotyledonous family.

In Seychelles, there are six endemic palms which differ in their morphology and they all belong to different genera:

Cabbage Palm
English Name: Cabbage Palm
Creole Name: Palmis
Scientific name: Deckenia nobilis

This palm was named after the German explorer of Africa, Baron von del Decken. The French word palmiste designates palms with edible terminal buds and Deckenia used to form part of the Creole cuisine.

Deckenia was probably very common on drier and well-drained soil, mainly at low and intermediate altitudes from sea level up to 600 m. However, at present on Mahe, it can be found growing in exposed areas such as cliff faces off Bernica and rocky inaccessible sites. The plant can easily grow in deep soil as can be seen in abundance in the Victoria Botanical Garden and the Biodiversity Centre at Barbarons. Its distribution extends to other islands such as Praslin, co-existing with other palms and on Silhouette, La Digue, Curieuse and Félicité.

The plant is monoecious, erect and can grow up to 40 m. The trunk is slender, unbranched and bears a terminal crown of leaves. It has distinct leaf scars that are covered with yellow spines on the stems when young but these disappear with maturity. Yellow spines are unique to Deckenia and this feature can be used for identifying this species amongst the juveniles of the endemic palms.

Coco-de-mer
English Name: Double Coconut
Creole Name: Koko-d-Mer
Scientific name: Lodoicea maldivica

This is the most interesting species of the six mono-specific endemic palms because it is the only endemic palm where the male and female flowers are located on different plants. For many centuries, the gigantic nuts were found washed ashore in places such as India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and it was assumed that the fruit was of submarine origin, which gave rise to the Vernacular name, Coco-d-mer.

The plant can be found growing in almost any type of soil, though confined to hill slopes and valleys where it forms almost pure stands of forests or mixed stands with other palms and screw pines. On Praslin many endemic animals are found in the Lodoicea forests. These include the endemic Black Parrot, the Seychelles Bulbul, and three Gecko species: Phelsuma sundbergi, Phelsuma astriata and Ailuronyx sechellensis and also an endemic snail species and a white slug.

The palms are found primarily in three main sanctuaries on Praslin, namely Fond Ferdinand, Vallée de Mai and Anse Marie-Louise. Vallée de Mai is a reserve that has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The site supports five other endemic palms and is regarded as one of Seychelles top eco-tourist attractions. The Coco- de- Mer can also be found growing in smaller relict stands on Curieuse.

The palm is solitary and can grow to 30 m. Through-out the life of the palm, its trunk is spineless, ringed with tough leaf scars. Generally, the nut is 1 seeded but sometimes 2 or even 3 nuts develop, weighing up to 18 kilograms and covered by a thin fibrous husk. Once the husk is removed the nut resembles the hips of a woman.

Latanier Milpat
Scientific name: Nephrosperma vanhoutteana
Creole Name: Latanier Millepattes

This species name originates from a great Belgian botanist, Louis Benoit Van Houtte (1810-1876), who traveled to various continents in South America, collecting plant specimens. The generic name Nephrosperma is a Greek word in reference to the peculiar kidney-shaped seed. The origin of the vernacular name is thought to be due to the undulating movement of the leaves in the wind, likened to that of the movement of a millipede.

This species is adapted to grow at low and intermediate altitudes (0-500 m), being more common in open exposed rocky places, normally by the sides of shady streams. It can grow in most soils. In places such as Vallée de Mai on Praslin, the plants can be seen growing alongside other endemic species including the unique Lodoicea maldivica. The plant tends to display a slender and tall trunk with long and lax leaves in shady situations. By comparison, stout trunks and comparatively small leaves are more typical in exposed areas. The plant can be found growing on the majority of the granitic islands.

The plant is an erect, un-branched, medium-sized solitary palm tree that can grow up to 13m tall, bearing a terminal crown of leaves. The trunk normally has black spines when young, but tends to become smooth with age. It is also marked with leaf scars and occasionally with cord-like adventitious or stilt roots on the lower parts.

The sheaths of the leaves of young trees have spines but those of mature trees are unarmed or only have a few spines. The leaves are very large, 2-3 m long, divided equally into long narrow leaflets (pinnae) of almost equal sizes. The young expanding leaves are flushed red, displaying a vibrant colour. The leaf bases are grey or blackish, not strongly sheathing the stem, sometimes covered with whitish mealy scales on the surface.

The flowers are inconspicuous, with male and female flowers borne on the same tree. The inflorescence is very long, loosely branched, growing upwards through the crown of the leaves with many tiny yellow flowers. The male flowers are 5 mm long with numerous stamens whereas the female flowers are very small. This feature is distinctive of Latanier Millepattes.

The fruit is globose, between 1-1.5 cm long, becoming orange-red at maturity. Birds such as Bulbul and Blue Pigeon assist with the dispersal of seeds.

Thief palm
English Name: Thief palm
Creole Name: Latannyen fey
Scientific name: Phoenicophorium borsigianum

This palm was the first endemic palm to be transported overseas to Great Britain. It was grown in the Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and was stolen in 1857. That’s why up to this day it is known as the thief palm

Phoenicophorium borsigianum is an under-story tree widespread in the forest. It is commonly found growing from sea level to the intermediate altitudes at about 500m. It is a very hardy plant that readily colonizes bare eroded ground where drought is severe since it is drought resistant and can stand exposure to sun. It can be distinguished by the rim of orange that borders the dissected margins of the leaves. It is frequently associated with Lodoicea maldivica on Praslin and Curieuse. Well preserved Phoenicophorium forests can still be seen along Rivière  Souvenir and Rivière Caiman, but also in Brullée and in the remaining palm forests  of Praslin, Mahe, Silhouette, La Digue, Fregate, Curieuse, Félicite and St Anne.

The leaves of this palm can be as long as 2 m. The lower part of the leaf blade of seedlings is smooth without any lobes or notches at the edges. The leaf has a v shaped notch at the tip. The leaves of the seedlings often have an orange tinge and orange petioles. The pleated leaf surface of this palm collects litter, which provides shelter for geckos and various invertebrates. The leaves are usually less deeply split than in Verschaffeltia.

The tree produces white flowers which are unisexual. The inflorescence is branched, interfoliar and emerges laterally beneath the crown, branching to 1-2 orders. Numerous stamens are produced. The fruit is orange-red when ripe, oblong-ovoid, 8-10 mm with persistent perianth whorls. The plant grows well from seeds.

Latanier Hauban
Scientific name: Roscheria melanochaetes

Latanier Hauban

Roscheria melanochaetes is the smallest of all endemic palms, with deep peachy-pink colour to the new leaves, which makes it easy to identify. The generic name is a dedication to Albrecht Roscher, a young European traveler who was killed in Nyasaland, and the species name melanochaetes refers to the black spines on the trunk of the plant.

The plant is dominant in moist, shaded forests at intermediate and higher altitude between 500-900 m on Mahé, alongside other endemic species. It can be found growing well in places  such as Morne Blanc, La Reserve, and Congo rouge on Mahé and several trees  grow at lower altitudes on Praslin. The plant is also present on Silhouette.

The plant is monoecious, solitary and can reach a height of up to 8 m. The trunk is irregularly ringed or scarred, with small stilt roots that are heavily armed with stiff black spines, which tend to become sparse at maturity. The spines are an adaptation common in juvenile trees to protect themselves against predators.

Roscheria has large leaves which are divided irregularly into leaflets. The leaves are pinnate, up to 2 m long or more, bearing many small black spines on the tubular sheath. In mature palm, expanding leaves are flushed red and this characteristic is different from other endemic palm species. The leaf lamina is entire and bilobed on juvenile plants.

The inflorescence is less than a m long, not exceeding the leaf. It is copiously branching to 3 orders, with tiny yellow flowers. Flowers are unisexual, with 3 sepals and petals each and 6 stamens. The fruits are globose to slightly oval, 6 m in length, becoming blackish-red when ripe.

Latanier Latte
Scientific name: Verschaffeltia splendida

Latanier Latte

The genus was named after Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825-1886), a Belgian botanist. Its vernacular name is derived from the fact that lattes or laths were made from the trunk. The species name splendida means splendid which reflects the elegant structure of this tall palm. Verschaffeltia splendida is a typical rainforest species. This palm can be distinguished from the other five endemic species by the presence of stilt roots. The presence of this tall palm can be indicated by scattering of woody, deeply ridged seeds on the ground beneath it.

This palm prefers the higher wetter regions, frequently bordering streams. It is normally found as an under-story tree in moist forest, on steep hillsides and ledges up to 850 m, becoming scarce at the highest altitudes. The plant is rarely seen below 300 m except in river valleys. On Praslin however, it is found not so far from sea level. It can be found in Vallée de Mai, where the stilt roots are occasionally immersed in streams. The aerial roots are an adaptation to steep slopes and potentially dynamic conditions. The plant can also be sighted on Silhouette.

It is a monoecious, solitary and erect palm tree that can grow up to 30 m, with stilt roots forming a cone at the base. The trunk is spiny when young and tends to display rings and leaf scars when mature. It is the only palm tree that has a cone of stilt roots at the base of the trunk.

The leaves can be as long as 2-3 m and as 1.75 m wide, with a bilobed apex. The margins are entire on young plants but because of wind damage the leaves tend to display irregular slits when mature.

The inflorescence is between 1-2 m long, drooping between the leaves of the crown with many small flowers. The spadix (flower spike) branches and bears numerous flowers arranged in groups. The fruit is globose and brownish-green, becoming red at maturity. The fruits are readily eaten and dispersed by birds. The seeds are usually woody, with raised ridges.