Garden News Blog

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!

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.


  • Ken Banks April 8, 2014

    I loved the information and photos here, but I can’t believe there is no mention of the palms at Riviere Bleue! I visited there with the International Palm Society in 2000, and there were tremendous stands of endemic palms, as well as striking individual plants. I think an update of this page is in order, especially since it’s the product of a botanical garden.

  • Mike Pell April 2, 2011

    Sue,  This is awesome.  So many interesting plants and such a beautiful place and to make it even better you came up with a brilliant excuse to show your ABC gum to the world.  Nice work!

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Image, top of page:
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus). Photo by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Kagus (Rhynochetos jubatus) greeting each other at Riviere Bleu. Photo by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Fruit (left) and apical bud/developing young leaves (right) of Gardenia aubryi (Rubiaceae). Photos by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Apical buds/developing young leaves of Gardenia aubryi before and after being chewed. Photo by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Araucaria muelleri (Araucariaceae ; left) and Dacrycarpus vieillardii (Podocarpaceae ; right). Photos by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Sebertia acuminata leaves and blue sap from nickel accumulation. Photos by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Beautiful buds and open flowers of Xanthostemon aurantiacus. Photos by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Habit and inflorescence of Amyema scandens. Photos by Susan Pell.
New Caledonia Fieldwork
Oxera neriifolia (Lamiaceae) leaves and flowers. Photos by Susan Pell.