Garden News Blog

First Days on the Island


After 13 hours over water, we finally saw the islands of New Caledonia as we approached the airport. We spent the first few days getting our bearings, doing a little in-town botanizing and birding, sorting out a rental car issue (the four wheel drive SUV we got at the airport was the size of a large toaster and had less luggage space than my bicycle), meeting with our collaborator, Jérôme Munzinger, at Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), and planning the order in which we will visit our targeted sites in the south province.


Since we are all still waking up at 5:00, we had no problem getting to the daily market in time for the best selection of produce and fresh fish. As you can see from the picture, we were able to get a wide selection of locally grown tropical fruits. These fruits mostly originated in south Asia and the Pacific, with the exception of sweetsop, which originated in tropical America, most likely the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these fruits were locally grown, like everything else in New Caledonia, they were very expensive. Bananas are about $6 per kilogram, or about $2.70 per pound, and they are by far the cheapest fruit! A single papaya costs at least $10.

Susan Pell is the director of science at BBG, where she studies the evolutionary relationships of the cashew family. She holds a PhD in plant biology and teaches continuing education and training courses in genetics, angiosperm morphology, and systematics.


  • Susan Pell April 3, 2011

    Lisa and Sara, all of the tropical fruits shown in this picture were grown locally. Ambarella has the texture of a hard, not very juicy peach and tastes a little bit acidic and tangy. The flavor is unlike anything we commonly get across the US, but you can find it in Asian markets in larger US cities. Sweetsop is probably my favorite tropical fruit. It has a texture like custard and is very sweet. Try the North American native pawpaw (Asimina triloba) in the same plant family to get an idea what it tastes like.

  • Susan Pell April 3, 2011

    Meredith, I have thought about you quite a lot on this trip as fungi have been very abundant. I have not seen any in the market and they do not eat much fermented food (very unlike what I encountered in Vietnam), but I have photographed quite a few fungi in the field. I even got to see horsehair fungus covered in caps! I’ll do a special entry on fungi and lichens later in the week.

  • Sara March 18, 2011

    That’s crazy about the price of fresh fruit! Do most people grow their own?

  • Lisa DellaCioppa March 17, 2011

    How lucky to be able to follow you on your amazing adventure. Can you describe what an ambarella and sweetsop is like?

  • Lauren Morris March 17, 2011

    It’s great to be able to keep up with you, Susan. I sent a link to this blog to your BASE proteges so maybe they will send you a hello!

  • Meredith Blackwell March 17, 2011

    Enjoy if you can afford it! Are there any fungi in the market—or fermented foods? What about fungi in the field?

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Image, top of page:
Fruit plate from market
Fruits from the market. Photo by Susan Pell.
View from the plane
The view from the plane as we approached New Caledonia. Photo by Susan Pell.