Olivia Hivon is dwarfed by the ancient palms in the UNESCO world heritage site, the Valle de Mai Nature Reserve of the Seychelles.

Huge palm trees surround the little entry point into the network of trails that crisscross the Vallee de Mai nature reserve, an astonishing prehistoric palm forest on the island of Praslin here in the Seychelles. It’s one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Seychelles, and Olivia and I had a chance to go visit it on one of our recent trips to the island. The giant palm leaves provide a deep canopy, and make a loud crashing noise when the wind blows through them, that create a bit of an eerie atmosphere, totally different than the soft rustling of leaves in Canadian forests. Olivia and I were completely dwarfed by the sheer size of the palms, which make for an impressive view that’s difficult to capture in photos!

The Vallee de Mai is unique in that it’s the only place that houses all 6 of the endemic species of palm found in Seychelles. The most famous of these palms is the Coco-de-Mer, which is a very strange and interesting plant. The male trees produce large flowering catkins, and the wind, geckos, bugs, and birds then pollinate the flowers on the female trees with the male pollen. These flowers then grow into the enormous coco-de-mer nuts: the largest seeds in the world. Our lovely tour guide Maria told us about some of the legends and stories about the coco de mer palm. For instance, the nuts gained their name because sometimes they would float to other islands, like the Maldives. The people there believed that they grew on trees deep in the ocean, hence the name “coco-de-mer”, meaning coconut of the sea in French. The suggestive shape of the nuts sparked lots of imaginative tales; the Seychellois tell stories about the trees coming to life at night to make love, because the catkins and seeds look like male and female reproductive parts! It was said that if you ever witnessed the trees come alive, you would go blind. Unfortunately, there some myths about magical healing properties of the nut still persist, and result in poaching problems, as local smugglers sell them and send them overseas.

Along with these weird and wonderful palm trees, there are also some cool endemic animals in the reserve, most of the endemic wildlife is pretty small and contrasts with the giant plants, like the cute Seychelles black parrot, the Praslin snail, and the giant bronze-eyed gecko (which is only giant relative to other geckos). Olivia and I managed to spot a bunch of different types of geckos, but the parrots proved pretty elusive. We heard them chirping but didn’t actually spot one up close till the last 15 minutes of our two hour hike! It was a really cool experience to hike through this ancient forest and to see these rare plants and animals, you could just imagine the awe of the first people ever to enter it.

 Mimi Shaftoe is in her third year of Conflict studies at the University of Ottawa. She's passionate about climate and environmental justice, and loves to read and explore new places. She is currently coordinating on A\J's Summer Student Takeover.

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