L. macrocarpa Rediscovery
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L. macrocarpa Rediscovery
Botanists, palm lovers, professionals as well as amateurs, all have heard about this almost extinct palm of north eastern New Caledonia, previously known in the wild by only five individuals producing fruits that nobody has ever succeeded to germinate. They are also aware that no one has ever found germinated seeds nor seedlings at the bottom of mature trees. This has been known from the early seventies, when Mr. Lucien Lavoix discovered the palm during one expedition on Mount Panie, the highest mountain of New Caledonia. Until now... !
When the newly formed Association Chambeyronia planned a three day expedition on Mt Panie, the purpose was to discover, to photograph and to list all the endemic species of palms growing on this mountain. Regarding Lavoixia thanks to information provided by ORSTOM, (the French scientific research institute) we were supposed to be able to relocate the five original specimens.
Preparing equipment for a three day expedition was carefully done for we did not want to be too loaded so that we could easily climb the rather "steppy" slopes of Mt Panie. In spite of our efforts to minimize our loads, each one of the eight members of the team had to carry a rucksack of approximately 20 kilos. A good third of the weight was a store of survival water because we had been warned there was no water at 500 meters, the altitude at which we had decided to camp and to begin our explorations.
Departure to Mt Panie was on a rainy Friday April 9, 1993. After the tiring four and a half hours drive, we arrived at Hienghene, a small village situated one hour drive from Mt Panie. We spent the night at Club Med Koulnoue, hoping we would have sunny weather next day. Our wishes were satisfied. Next morning we were up at 5.30 and after a copious breakfast the team headed to its final destination.
One hours drive later we finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain. We immediately started the rather hard ascension under a heavy sun. After almost three hours of a slow ascension, because there were so many palms everywhere that we often stopped to look at them, we were lucky enough to find a large platform where we rapidly set up camp. Right after we gathered around looking to hundreds of palms. There were Moratia cerifera, Veillonia alba, Basselinia favieri, Burretiokentia vieillardii, Chambeyronia lepidota, all of them heavily loaded with immature fruits. We also found more common species such as Basselinia gracilis, these ones of extremely high size, and Chambeyronia macrocarpa.
The afternoon came to an end when the youngest member of the team called us saying he had seen a strange palm with large round fruits that we immediately identified as Lavoixia macrocarpa. There was no doubt about it! It had the enlarged base so peculiar to Lavoixia the large round fruits similar to a bunch of giant grapes, and the bulging crown shaft covered with large dark scales. We had found our first Lavoixia.
As night slowly fell over the mountain we headed towards the camp. We spent the evening discussing about the discovery of the day, the schedule of tomorrow, and of course the opportunity that we may discover other Lavoixia.
Next morning we woke up at 4.30 am and after a quick breakfast the team headed to the place of the discovery. While some of us took photos and sketches of the Lavoixia others gathered around to explore the surroundings. Suddenly some voices yelled excitingly: "There is one Lavoixia here, another one here, two more over there, and one more there again, and another one, and one more...".
Nine! We had found a population of nine Lavoixia, seven of them were bearing great numbers of immature fruits and two were juvenile with trunk. We collected a few fruits on the ground but they were not ripe. Let's keep the best for last; at the bottom of a palm we discovered and collected a few seedlings that we identified as Lavoixia as the seed, in particular, was still attached to them.
As we felt hungry we decided to picnic near a small creek. On the way we discovered two new populations of Lavoixia; thirteen adult trees with eight of them bearing large clusters of fruits; but this time there were no seedlings. Chance was on our side! After picnic we continued exploring a little higher, around 600-700 meters altitude, where we identified other species such as Burretiokentia hapala. On the way back to the camp we found a fourth population of Lavoixia six mature individuals with four of them bearing fruits.
Later on at the camp we checked back our day; we had found four unknown populations of Lavoixia representing twenty eight adult trees with nineteen of them bearing unfortunately immature fruits in large quantities; we had collected some seedlings along with seeds of many different species of palm; we had taken lots of photos and we had increased our knowledge of New Caledonian palms. As one can imagine, return to civilisation was not easy after three days spent away far from the maddening crowd.
In the end we can say that this expedition is a real success in many ways, the main point being the discovery of new sites of Lavoixia and more important the discovery of seedlings that break up the myth of apparent impossible germination. We will try our best to succeed in growing the carefully transplanted seedlings far away from their natural habitat and its specific conditions. Thanks to these new discoveries we think we can now consider that Lavoixia macrocarpa is still a rare palm but is no longer threatened with extinction. And who knows may be new discoveries are still waiting for us somewhere up there... ?
Philippe Cherrier Association Chambeyronia P.O. Box 11162,
Noumea, New Caledonia
No. 39, April-June 1993.
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