Fiji | Viti
Fiji is an archipelago in the South Pacific that consists of more than 300 islands, around a third of which are inhabited. Jeff made four separate trips to the forests there to observe species that exist nowhere else in the world, and was one of the first people to see these extremely rare species firsthand. These photos are a visual story of the fourth trip, where he was joined by his wife Suchin.
There are many ‘holy grail’ palms that exist within the archipelago, but Cyphosperma tanga seems to be the one that jumps into many palm collector’s minds when they think about the tropical wonderland of the islands. On the tallest mountain on the largest island in the country, the stunning entire leafed palm is tucked away between the altitudes of around 600 to 900 meters (2000-3000ft), and reaching its habitat is no easy task.
The Forests of Fiji
The rest of the forest is equally spectacular, with a dazzling array of unique plants. In a primary Fijian forest, roughly every other plant is native to the island. When this comes to palms this rule is compounded greatly, as Fiji has 25 species of palms, with 84% being unique to the islands.
An emergent palm that was once thought to be restricted to a single population, recent discoveries have shown it to have a more widespread but discontinuous occurrence nearby on the Rewa River. This palm can bounce back on disturbed soil and areas, so current day mahogany plantations remove seedlings of Neoveitchia that are repopulating the area that was once primary forest. Despite being robust and adaptable, outside threats such as the rhinoceros beetle are a deep concern for a palm with such limited distribution – a single wave of beetle destruction could wipe out the entire known population of this species in the blink of an eye.
Only three sparse populations across two different islands make up the entire known population of this palm – making it one of the rarest Fijian endemic plants.
Balaka is one of the most recognizable genera in the Fijian forests, with their graceful stems weaving their way upwards while holding a crown of spaced out paddle shaped leaflets and a very unique seed shape. The local tribesmen use their tough yet slender stems for spear making. However Jeff and Su noticed a mysteriously different kind of Balaka on their adventure, one with a more robust stem and a breathtaking leaf shape that ended up being described as Balaka streptostachys.
Conservation in Fiji
Roughly half of the flora and a third of the fauna in Fiji are endemic, meaning that they exist nowhere else in the world. This unique biodiversity ramps up the need for protection – any sort of destruction of habitat could wipe out the entire population of a species. Although Fiji has recently put more emphasis on conservation, the expansion of plantations for commodities like mahogany and bananas are still a threat to the primary forests of the region. Once an area is disturbed or destroyed, it is unlikely to return to its full state of biodiversity for countless years, and when the genetics are lost they are gone forever. Half of Fiji is still forested, there is hope to preserve the forests for generations to come.