Parc de la Rivière Bleue
Parc de la Rivière Bleue (Blue River Park) is perhaps most well-known national park in New Caledonia. It is in the heart of the southern end of the south province and is famous for its most showy vertebrate residents, the kagus (Rhynochetos jubatus). We were fortunate to visit the park with Daniel and Irène Letocart from the Endemia website and Daniel’s brother, Yves Letocart, one of the most well known ornithologist in the country. Yves studies the kagu and easily called these beautiful birds from the forest for us to see and photograph.
These flightless, endemic New Caledonian birds only show their full beauty when alarmed or trying to attract a mate. In the photo below, one bird greets another with a show of aggression as it emerges from the forest edge.
While the birders in our group walked ahead with Yves, I stayed in the back of the group walking slowly with Daniel and Irène soaking up their vast knowledge of the flora of Rivière Bleue. The pictures below show just a few of the hundreds of species we saw that day.
We have seen this first plant, Gardenia aubryi (Rubiaceae), several places and in each place have heard the same story. You can break off the apical bud/developing young leaves and chew them like chewing gums.
I finally tried this at Rivière Bleue and was amazed at the chewing gum texture that develops after only two or three foamy saliva producing chews! It really does feel and taste like gum, albeit with rather weak flavor. Daniel told us that New Caledonians use the chewed buds to plug small holes in boats. After hand washing my field pants I discovered two buds I had placed in my pocket and now I believe this boat repair story!
I mentioned in a previous blog post that there is an enormous diversity of gymnosperms in the New Caledonian flora. Various lineages of these coning plants have diversified in odd ways on the islands of New Caledonia and chief among them are the Araucariaceae and the Podocarpaceae. The two pictures below show just how strange these two families can be in this flora.
New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest producers of nickel ore and evidence of this metal is everywhere, even in the plants. Sebertia acuminata (Sapotaceae) is a large, rather nondescript plant that accumulates large amounts of nickel from the soil in which it grows. This accumulation is very obvious when you cut into the bark of these trees or snap off a leaf or twig: they have blue sap!
In the more open areas of Parc de la Rivière Bleue, along the river and large artificially created lake, some of the more gorgeous residents of the park were in bloom. The first of these that I will share with you is Xanthostemon aurantiacus (Myrtaceae), which was nearly growing in the water on the edge of the lake.
Amyema scandens (Loranthaceae) is a beautiful parasitic plant that, although it does parasitize its woody host, has leaves of its own that photosynthesize.
At the visitors’ center on the way out of the park, we saw the first of several Oxera species we saw in the area. This beautiful almost orchid-like flower is actually a member of the mint family! The leaves look very much like honey suckle leaves and the flowers certainly don’t look like typical mint flowers!