25 November 2017
Last week, I went to the botanical gardens in the area of Pamplemousses (pronounced pam-pleh-MOO-sez, the French word for grapefruits). The official name is the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, and no, I'm not sure how to pronounce his name. I do know that he was the first Prime Minister of Mauritius, and later on became the Governor General.
The gardens go back to the time of the French being in power in Mauritius. In 1736, the French governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais, set up his residence in the area of the current gardens. In 1767, the French administrator Pierre Poivre brought in plants from all over the world, predominantly fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Many of the spices that Poivre brought in are still growing in the spice garden of the current gardens. The French continued to expand the botanical gardens, adding broad avenues lined with trees for walking, and establishing various ponds for waterlilies and lotus plants.
During the British administration, the gardens were neglected for a bit, but eventually were revived in 1849, and the collection of palm trees was initiated.
The current name, honoring Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, was added on 18 September 1988, the 88th birthday of this illustrious leader.
The botanical gardens cover 33 hectares of land, or 81.5 acres. Here is their website, if you want more information: http://ssrbg.govmu.org/English/Pages/default.aspx
So, I went with a lovely young Dutch couple we met at our first hotel in Mauritius, in the Pointe aux Piments area. (North of Port Louis, the capital, and right on the coast.) We stopped at a café and picked up takeaway sandwiches and water, and eventually had our lunch in one of the pretty little gazebos in the gardens.
We wandered around, enjoying the lovely day - sunny but not too hot, and with a decent breeze. It was very uncrowded in the gardens, quiet and peaceful most of the time. And surprisingly not buggy, although when we wandered off the paths I did get a few insect bites. (But I tend to be a mosquito magnet.)
Some favorite spots: there were two lotus ponds, one with pink blossoms and one with white. They were large ponds, and the lotuses seems to stretch on forever, with the gorgeous blossoms standing tall and proud.
The largest pond, though, had the giant waterlilies we had seen in the Amazon River basin, and these had been imported from there some two centuries ago. The leaves were huge and healthy, giant green round platters with a reddish lip covered in spines. I'm not sure if I mentioned the life cycle of these waterlilies when we were in Brazil - the flowers bloom a very pale pink, almost white but just a tinge of pink. Overnight, they turn purple. And on the third day, they begin to die and sink into the water, where the seeds begin a new plant to renew the life cycle of the giant waterlilies. I find it amazing that the leaves grow so huge and last a long while, but the lovely delicate flower has a lifespan of three days.
There were many huge trees, probably at least two or three hundred years old, most likely some of the original trees in these gardens. The kind of trees that would carry a "Notable Tree" sign in New Zealand. The trees that could maybe be encircled by three or four adults holding hands - or maybe even bigger than that! I do love the notable trees, they seem so peaceful and wise. I know, most people don't find wisdom in trees. What can I say, I do. I see Ents, and Gandalf, and Druids, and Demeter and Persephone. I see the homes of the Dryads, and maybe Artemis visiting her tree friends. Daphne turned into a laurel tree. I feel the history of humans and their relationship with trees, and Gaea, Mother Earth, and our need to name and personify and anthropomorphise everything. All of that is embodied in ancient trees. So yes, these centuries-old trees connect us to our combined histories, and hold wisdom in their beings.
We looked for the spice garden, but for some reason it was fenced off and locked up. The husband of the couple I was with is a chef in Amsterdam, and he wanted to see the various spices growing. We found a cinnamon tree with fragrant leaves, smelling lightly of cinnamon and maybe something fruity. And a clove tree, with the cloves standing at attention like small dark spiky flowers. There were also various fruit trees that we couldn't quite identify - maybe quince or persimmon? Definitely various kinds of mangoes, which I quickly avoided.
I think my favorite, though, was a nameless little tree, growing next to something with a sign. Okay, it isn't nameless, it just didn't have a sign with a name so I had to do a bit of research. Looks like this is a Picara, also known as a Chinese Croton. Scientific name is Excoecaria Cochinchinensis. This gorgeous plant has bright green leaves, something like a ficus tree, but the underside of the leaves is a bright red, like a lacquer red - absolutely beautiful on a breezy day! I have no idea what kind of climate they need, but they would be wonderful in a home garden - just loved them!
There were little architectural features scattered around the gardens - a stone bridge covered in ferns, little gazebos like the one we picnicked in, and a lower bridge crossing a stream that runs through the gardens. There were also numerous stone-lined canals presumably draining any overflow water from the various ponds, and perhaps bringing water to plants further into the gardens.
And the gate! An ornate, wrought-iron, Baroque gate worthy of Versailles! Really, an absolutely gorgeous and opulent metal gate, painted white, establishing the tone for entry to the gardens. So totally French, and of course kept beautifully shiny and bright. A gate that announces "This is a very special place, and you must be worthy to enter here." Of course, these days worthy means 200 Mauritian rupees, but this aristocratic gate sniffs at the mention of money. (And doesn't really turn away anyone.)
The photo before the gate photo shows these crazy bird nests - I have no idea what kind of bird makes these nests, I've asked and I'm always told various birds make them. The nests are upside down. Bell-shaped. Totally open on the bottom. I want to know how the eggs stay in the nests, and how the baby birds stay in there as well. Do the birds produce some sort of glue and stick the eggs on the inner walls? Are there shelves and the eggs rest on that? No idea, and no one has been able to answer my questions. And since I don't know what kind of bird, I'm having problems problems researching these crazy nests. I'll keep asking, and looking for information, and will keep people posted.
Of course, I was chatting about this with my Dutch friends. And we looked around, and at first thought we saw some birds on nests in the top of a couple of distant trees. But they seemed to be moving in a funny manner. So we looked, and looked, and realized that these are really bats!!! Bats hanging upside down in the treetops, the blondish body and head looking like the nest and the black folded wings appearing to be birds - but really giant flying foxes of Mauritius! WOW! (Oh, and I learned that the word for "bat" in Dutch is "fledermaussen" - very close to the German "fledermaus." Which of course we all know from the operetta by Strauss.)
So here are lots of bats in trees for my friends who were asking for flying fox photos from the Seychelles.
And I truly would NOT want to be in these gardens at sunset or so! Hordes and legions and squadrons of flying foxes overhead! We saw that in Darwin, Australia, and it truly was a very creepy sight! Almost like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz - just frightening!
On a happier note - there were birds all over the gardens, chirping and singing and whistling in the trees. We didn't see many of them, but we heard them.
These are my two favorite birds that we've seen in Maurititius, and it seems appropriate to feature them with the gardens. We have the red fody, or Madagascar fody, which I wrote about while we were in the Seychelles. This is a small bird, roughly sparrow size, with a bright red or red-orange body, and grey/black/brown wings and tail feathers. They also have a tiny dark mark around their eyes, almost like a mask but not quite. Very cute and friendly little birds, they come up to porches and balconies to see if people have dropped any crumbs that might be tasty.
Then there is the red-whiskered bulbul, also known as the crested bulbul. This is related to the Seychelles bulbul, but much fancier with his pointed black crest, black facial mask, and the little red cheek patch. Plus red under his tail feathers. Like the Seychelles bulbul, he is friendly with attitude - they come up to the porch railing and perch there, hoping to share breakfast. The tilt their head and look directly at us, as if to say "Yes, I'd like some croissant please." The word "cheeky" comes to mind. They aren't very large, bigger than the fodies and sparrows, but still smaller than a robin. And shaped a bit sleeker, somewhat like a jay. Very cute and friendly birds - and they seem to know it, too!
Last item for the day - sugarcane is a big industry in Mauritius, with cane fields all over the island. We were stuck in back of a truck hauling sugarcane to be processed (into sugar as well as rum), and I thought it made an interesting photo.
I'll write a blog soon about our new home in Grande Baie, but this blog is long enough, so I'll sign off. One more bat picture, just so you can see how eerie and vaguely ominous the look all lined up in a tree!