Presentation of La Réunion Island

La Réunion is an island of 2500 km², which, due to its subtropical climate and its significant difference in altitude (highest point at 3000 m), presents very varied landscapes and ecosystems. Its active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise, regularly erupts within a volcanic complex with an exceptional landscape. Over time, the active erosion of the massif has created a very rugged terrain consisting of peaks, cirques and ramparts, the whole recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site largely protected by the National Park of La Réunion, which covers 42% of the territory of the island.

With Mauritius and Rodrigues islands, La Réunion forms the Mascarene archipelago, a string of volcanic islands far from neighboring continents where a very specific flora with a high rate of endemism has developed. The diversity of the natural environments of La Réunion, with very high rainfall and temperature differentials between the east coast with a humid tropical climate and the much drier west coast, and from the coastal fringe to the top of the massifs, is home to very specific vegetation types adapted to these different environments. La Réunion has more than 350 plants strictly endemic to La Réunion or more widely to the Mascarene Archipelago. As such, La Réunion is recognized as one of the 25 hotspots of global biodiversity. This heritage is particularly fragile and, as elsewhere, has been subject to disturbance (urbanization, introduction of exotic species, fires, etc.). Currently, 256 species are considered endangered in La Réunion, 30% of its native flora, and 125 of them are critically endangered. Fortunately, the public authorities and many associations are mobilizing for the preservation of this exceptional heritage.

La Réunion’s palms

Palm trees are ubiquitous in public spaces and La Réunion gardens and are an integral part of the Creole garden and of the landscapes of the island. La Réunion people have for many years introduced many species of palm trees to the island, and many collections, some of them very old, are exceptionally rich in palm species diversity. Among them, six palm species are endemic to La Réunion or Mascarenes (in distinct varieties). These species are well known to palm collectors around the world as they have been widely disseminated for many years and are perfectly adapted to many climates and growing conditions. These species are divided into four genera that have evolved in the Mascarene archipelago.

The genus Acanthophoenix has three species, all naturally present in La Réunion :

- Acanthophoenix crinita is the black palmist of the highlands. Despite poaching, it is still found in large stands in remote, often inaccessible, highland forest areas - Acanthophoenix rousselii, or Roussel palmist, is present only on the private property of the Roussel family in le Tampon, hence its name. There are no more than sixty adult individuals. - Acanthophoenix rubra, or red palmist, has become extremely rare in nature. It is nevertheless considered the king of La Réunion palms, being known for the very great taste qualities of its palm-heart, which makes it a widely cultivated palm tree. Its originel habitat is lowland moist forest.

The genus Dictyosperma is known only from one species: Dictyosperma album, which includes several varieties in La Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues. The variety in La Réunion, Dictyosperma album var. album or white palmist, has become very rare in nature. It is a magnificent palm whose legendary resistance to cyclones has earned it the vernacular name of "Hurricane Palm" by English-speaking people. Its habitat covers semi-dry regions at low and medium altitude.

The genus Hyophorbe comprises five species, only one of which is naturally present in La Réunion: Hyophorbe indica is the poisonous palmist or pig palmist. It is quite common in nature. The pulp of the fruit was once consumed by children. It is found all over the island.

The genus Latania includes three species, one of which is naturally present in La Réunion: Latania lontaroides, or red latan, is the emblematic palm of La Réunion. Its palm leaves are very decorative. It owes its success to its great hardiness and the strong red coloring of its young subjects, which is unique in the palm family. Its habitat covers low-lying semi-dry regions.

In La Réunion, wild palms have become rare; species of the genus Acanthophoenix and Dictyosperma have been decimated for the consumption of their hearts. These species are still largely part of the culinary heritage of the island and are consumed in large quantities, which generates a booming economic activity with the establishment of large plantations and processing units.