The Flora

By: Peter R Stewart

French Polynesia is thought of as a real floral paradise, because of the huge number of species due to the diversity of the climate and physical conditions of islands and atolls. There are nearly one thousand native species augmented by the hundreds of species imported by Europeans during the last few centuries.

Polynesian people wear at least one flower behind the ear, or stuck in their hair. They frequently wear a crown of flowers and a garland as well around their neck, called the "Tiare Tahiti" the Tahitian Gardenia, which is snowy white in colour. This is the threaded and plaited garland you may well be given on arrival at Papeete, entwined with the "Maire", a fern which symbolises Tahiti.

In addition the following flowers are very popular and can be used on garlands, and flower arrangements. The Hibiscus, the Helconias, red ginger and red torch ginger, flamingo flowers, paper flowers, and of course the many orchid varieties. Finally the Temple flower which is actually a little tree.

Additional flowering plants of course includes bougainvillea, oleander, frangipani, pointsettia, and many others.

The mountainous volcanic islands are densely covered in vegetation, dominated by Coconut Palms. There are a number of other interesting trees including the famous 'Mutiny on the Bounty' breadfruit. In additionpapaya, banana, grapefruit, avocado, orange, mandarin, lime and lemon abound, which accounts for the huge amount of fruit that appears at meal times.

The Fauna of French Polynesia in the main is underwater, where the coral, constructed by living creatures is a multitude of colours, from bright yellow to deep purple and reds, taking in neon green and turquoise. The biggest accumulation of fauna is in the lagoons, and not the ocean outside the reefs.

What you will find in the lagoons at night are tiger-sharks, but Gray sharks are very common and Manta rays and giant turtles are not uncommon at all. The richest area is the passes where the tide rushes in and out, and the number of fish who spend all their lives living in the lagoons make snorkelling here very attractive.

All in all the huge variety of flora and fauna are what makes French Polynesia the simply beautiful place it is.

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