On the Botany of Tahiti.
Manuscript (Author unknown) found amongst the papers of the late William Swainson, F.R.S.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 12th November, 1870.]
I Have somewhere seen the observation that “the botany of islands is particularly interesting”; this may be the case, but I think it must be construed merely to mean that the study of the plants is interesting, for assuredly in general the plants of isolated islands are in themselves particularly uninteresting, so far as their mere beauty is concerned, and, for myself, I must confess that I always feel a sensation of fatigue at the idea of hunting out the name of a plant which does not recommend itself by beauty, utility, odour, or curiosity of structure. In the botany of Tahiti I do not know of more than three Phænogamous plants peculiar to the island which deserve cultivation for their beauty or utility; the ferns possess many handsome species, but nothing very remarkable, unless it is in one which is spiny, but which I have never seen, and in another (Angiopteris erecta) for its enormous size. The Lycopodiaceæ are very numerous and beautiful, like all the tribe, and in some measure make up by their abundance for the paucity of flowering plants; there are on Tahiti and the adjoining island of Morea about sixteen or seventeen species, and perhaps one hundred and sixty of ferns. Of flowering plants I cannot find more than three hundred in all the catalogues put together, and, doubtless, many plants will have been counted twice, or even three times, in this computation, because many plants would be called different names by the different botanists who found them; and, moreover, I have included every common plant (such as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), even although it may be well known by the natives not to be indigenous. The list is also swelled by those common plants which are found on all the tropical islands of each ocean, and which in reality belong to no country in particular, as I see in the list published in the “Ann. Nat. Hist.,” by Professor Henslow, of the plants of the Keeling Islands, that all the species common to those islands and Timor are also to be found on the shores of the small islands about Tahiti, except Acacia farnesiana; an Acacia is found, but it is not farnesiana, but an unarmed, downy species, which I have never seen in flower. There is also a much larger species, with leaves resembling those of lophantha, but with pods four times as large. Garlandinea bonduc is scarce; Ochrosia parviflora is not marked as being at Timor, but is abundant here.
The littoral plants found here, in addition to those of the Keelings, are two species Pandanus, Pisonia inermis and procera, one of which was probably the tree which Mr. Darwin saw at the Keelings, and which attains a diameter of five or
six feet, with particularly soft wood. The wood is considerably softer than the lower part of a cabbage stump, but it is nevertheless used by the natives for canoes when they cannot get any better wood. Paritium tricuspis, Ximeria elliptica, a Capparis with angular fruit, Ipomœa pes-caprœ, and several others. Convolvulus braziliensis, Agati coccinea, Erythrina indica, Hernandia sonora, Morinda citrifolia, Suriana maritima, Heliotropium aromaticum, a Mucuna, Sophora tomentosa, Canavalia littoralis, with Barringtonia speciosa, very rare. A little further from the sea will in some places be seen a considerable variety of plants, the most conspicuous of which are Barringtonia, Terminalia glabrata (very rare), Calophyllum inophyllum in stony places, Ficus tinctoria and prolixa, Spondias dulcis, and Inocorpus edulis, mixed with great quantities of Hibiscus tiliaceus and tricuspis (Partitium), and, more rarely Thespisia populnea and Aluerites triloba. In some districts there are also found in this region whole woods of the Ito, Casuarina equisetifolia.
In the more cultivated parts of Tahiti all these plants have been nearly exterminated, and their room is filled by the bread-fruit, cocoa-nut, and orange trees, with an underwood composed entirely of the guava. This plant, which has been introduced within the memory of man, is now the most common plant and the most complete weed in the island. It covers the whole of the low land, and also the hills to the height of about 500 feet, forming a dismal-looking scrub of about ten feet high; above the height of 500 feet it has not yet been able to contend successfully with the thick growth of fern and higher still the native forest, but you see it springing up in every open spot in every part of the island: never was there an instance of a plant so completely taking possession of a country. Four other exotic plants are found among the guavas—Cassia purpurea, Asclepias carassavica in moist spots, an Indigofera with long spikes of copper-coloured very small flowers, and a blue flowered Indian Crotalaria, of which I forget the specific name; this last is the only one which accompanies the guava in its excursions up-hill. These four plants form almost all the common weeds of waste places. The weeds of cultivated soils are very few in number, and may likewise have been introduced; the most common are a Bœmeria and a Phyllanthus.
After passing the region of guavas the hills are generally entirely covered with Gleichenia hermanni, growing on the steep sides so strongly that it is almost impossible to pass through it. Occasionally interspersed are bushes of Metrosideros villosa, and, as you get still higher, M. lucida (?) in much greater abundance.
At about 800 to 1,000 feet the Gleichenia becomes almost lost in the scrub of Metrosideros lucida, Dodonœa viscosa (?), Melastoma taitense, and a species of Vaccinium which was called by Bertuo Arbutus mucronata. These plants are bound together by two large species of Lycopodium, and underneath them are
to be found magnificent specimens of Schizœa forsteri. After passing this belt of dry shrubs the numbers of species increase. Often the native forest reaches the crests of the hills, but if it does not the Gleichenia becomes mixed up with grasses, Cyperaceœ, and other ferns, and Lycopodiums; this sort of vegetation continues to the tops of the highest hills that anybody has ever yet ascended —about 3,000 feet; if, however, the hills are moist and covered with wood vast numbers of ferns will be found at the elevation of 1,500 feet, and it is probable that if one could reach the highest peaks (4,500 feet) a still greater number would be found; but I do not expect that there would be a like increase of exogenous plants, because I find the same species of trees very widely dispersed in respect to height after passing the true valley region; but perhaps this might not be the case in the centre of the island, which I have never been able to visit in consequence of the war.
The chief portion of the wood in the upper portions of the hills, in sheltered situations, is composed of Aleurites triloba, with interspersed trees of Weinmannia, Carissa grandis of Bertuo, and one or two Urticaceœ and Euphorbiaceœ, which I have not seen in flower. The more exposed sides are generally covered with Rhus apapi of Bertuo, the largest tree which belongs exclusively to these islands; it may sometimes, but rarely, be found 18 inches diameter and 15 feet high. As the apapi is a tree which does not give much shade, the ground beneath is generally covered with an under-bush of greater variety than is found in other places, among which the most common are Alstonia costata, Cyrtandra biflora, and another species much resembling it, Omalanthus, sp., Bradleia, Melastoma justense, Commersonia echinata, Grewia, and one or two other Byttrenaceœ, besides the ubiquitous Metrosideros lucida and Dodonœa viscosa, the whole bound together by the large species of Freycinetia, with its red bracts, Jasminum didymum, some Mucunas, and two Alyxias. These portions of the mountains are undoubtedly the richest in varieties of shrubs; unfortunately they are always so steep that it is next to impossible to explore them. The botanist must confine himself to the mere ridge, where the path runs, which ridge is generally not more than a foot broad; if it should spread out it again becomes covered with fern and ti, or Dracœna plants. The extreme ridges of all the hills I have visited have been covered with Metrosideros, Dodonœa, Nelitris jambosella, and Vaccinium bushes; on one or two places I have found a Coprosma.
Immediately under these sharp crests, with their heads reaching to the level on which grow the more hardy plants, are often to be seen, in tempting but disappointing proximity, many plants which are apparently to be found nowhere else, but which it is impossible to reach, while, at the same time, they are almost within one's grasp. The crests are, as I said, very steep and narrow—in fact, mere walls of earth; they are covered with thick fern and
bushes, so that the abyss on each side is completely hidden from view, and even if it was possible to stick on to a bank of slippery earth, few people would like to try the experiment if they could not see a bottom to arrive at in case they slipped. I am a tolerably good climber myself over rocks or up trees, but I confess that I never could muster courage to descend any of those earth cliffs, particularly after a small experiment which I made one day in climbing up a steep earthy ridge about as wide as a horse's back, which experiment resulted in my slipping back about fifty feet, to the great detriment of my nails and breeches in front, and thinking myself exceedingly lucky at last to fall in with a Metrosideros bush, which brought me up just at the edge of a still further descent of about 150 feet, where I should not have had the advantage of slipping down astride. After this, when I saw any tempting-looking plants just beneath me, on the crest of a hill, I contented myself with speculating on the probable distance I should have to travel ere I reached the bottom if I over-reached myself, at the same time taking particular care not to do so.
The most common tree to be found in such situations is a large Araliaceous plant, with compressed leaves and about ten consolidated styles, also a plant-perhaps of the Celastroma, which was procured by my friend M. Vesco, in flower, with tufted entire leaves, like a Daphne, and axillary racemes of flowers with an irregular number of lobes and stamens, and apparently a large disk in place of style. I send you a bad specimen of it, which was all I could get.
The common tree-fern of the mountains (a Cyathea) is the ugliest I ever saw, and at the same time one of the most curious; it is slender, and quite smooth in the trunk, showing the scars only at considerable intervals, and, apparently in consequence of its great rapidity of growth, the leaves have their bases quite distinct from one another, and more than an inch apart, instead of being, as in all the other species I have seen, quite closely overlapping. It is also curious in throwing out a species of tuberous offset from the upper part of the trunk; these are attached by a small neck to the parent, and in time throw out leaves. I suppose that in time they become too heavy and fall off, making young plants. I hope to send you one or two of them alive to England. There is also a Cyathea, very like C. dealbata of New Zealand, but it is very rare; it is not proliferous. A slender one, not proliferous, and a very handsome one, with a stout stem, the leaves of which much resemble those of C. medullaris of New Zealand; it is sparingly proliferous. I think I have live plants of this also. I do not know of any more species of tree-ferns, but the natives, who call the curious wool of the Sandwich Island tree-fern mamau (mammow), say that the same substance is found, although very rarely, in their own mountains; it is, however, possible that they allude to
the hairs which cover the bases of the leaf-stalks of the large Cyathea I have just mentioned, and which resembles the mamau, or puru as it is called in the Sandwich Islands, in colour.
I do not find that any of these are eatable in the young state, like C. medullaris, but one of the species of Angiopteris produces a curious sort of sheathing process at the base of the fronds, which, when roasted, is very good food for a hungry man—very solid and, I should think, nourishing. The other species of Angiopteris I have occasionally seen with leaves fifteen feet long, and a root stock of a nearly spherical shape and two feet in diameter; it is, without exception, the most enormous fern I ever saw; the leaves emit an agreeable perfume when bruised or cut. I think there are three species, but am not certain if the one with somewhat digitately-branched leaves, which I have only once seen in the valley of Piré, is different from the eatable one.
I observe in the “Companion to the Bot. Mag.” what I think must be an error, although by whom or how made, I cannot at present point out. In the “Specimen of the Botany of New Zealand,” under the head of Gleichenia hermanni, is appended an observation purporting to be by Forster, which can only apply to the plant which I have always supposed to be Pteris esculenta, and which is the common fern of New Zealand, growing everywhere and universally eaten by the natives. I am nearly certain that they do not eat the root of any species of Gleichenia, in fact the Gleichenias have small, hard, wiry rhizomes. G. hermanni is the common fern of Tahiti; I do not believe the same species grows in New Zealand, and am sure that it is not eaten or eatable in Tahiti. Again, under the head of Pteris esculenta, is attached a doubt if it is a native of New Zealand, and it is stated that Forster gathered it at Tahiti. Now, if I am right with regard to the identity of Pteris esculenta with the common fern of New Zealand, no such species of Pteris grows in Tahiti, nor do the natives of this island eat the rhizome of any Pteris whatever—at least I have made every enquiry among the natives, and am also assured that it has not been met with by either one of four very industrious collectors (French officers) who have been in the habit of making botanical excursions for the last two or three years whenever their customary avocations permitted, and I have often heard from them expressions of wonder as to what the Pteris esculenta of the catalogue could be. I therefore think that there must have been some changing of labels or mixture of specimens, which has led to a confusion of two very different species of plants.
Among the few eatable plants peculiar to the South Sea Islands, and apparently indigenous in Tahiti, may be mentioned, as deserving the first rank from its utility, the féi (fé-i), Musa fehi of Bertuo. This plant in many places covers the mountain sides almost to the exclusion of every other vegetable, and forms a great portion of the food of the natives at all times of the year.
The young plants may be easily distinguished from the banana by their pointed and wrinkled leaves, but the larger ones only by the presence of black patches on the stem, which are not always very apparent, or by cutting it through, when it throws out a great quantity of deep purple juice. The plant when well grown is as large as the largest size banana, and bears a large upright scape of green flowers, about six under each bract or spathe, which is also green. The fruit, which, even when ripe, is completely hidden by the leaves, is of a dark orange-yellow colour, very closely crowded on the scape, the whole raceme being of a somewhat conical form, from the lower fruit being the largest. The eatable part is of a bright yellow colour, like gamboge, and is hardly eatable in a raw state; not being sweet it is a very good vegetable when cooked; or, when fully ripe, if well baked, it closely resembles baked sweet apples. It has the curious property of colouring the urine of a bright yellowish-green colour, which, however, does not continue; but although the same quiantity of the féi may be eaten every day, after about a week the original colour of the secretion will be restored. I am not aware that it has any particular effect on the urinary organs, but the Europeans in general imagine that it has. The plant appears difficult to cultivate at the sea level, and I am afraid I shall not succeed in carrying any living ones even to New South Wales. It does not in general bear seed; I have once seen it, but the seeds were abortive. Nevertheless, there is a plant in sparing cultivation at Tahiti which is evidently a hybrid between the féi and the banana, producing an enormous spike of fruit, which takes a horizontal direction. From the circumstance of the féi not producing seed, I have been disposed to doubt its being really indigenous to Tahiti; I should like much to know if there are any well-known instances of plants being barren in their true natural locality. An indigenous banana in New Holland produces seed abundantly.
The restrictions on personal liberty imposed by the French authorities at Tahiti, in consequence of the war, are very vexatious. It is necessary to go to the “Ministre des Affaires Euroéennes” for a permission every time one wishes to go outside the posts, which are, all but one, quite in the town. I had a special permission to pass the more distant post whenever I pleased, in order to go to a garden formed by Capt. Bonard, of the frigate “Uranie,” where I had planted a number of my plants. This permission was headed “Permission jusqu'a nouvel ordre”; nevertheless I was once turned back by the sergeant of the guard, under the pretence that all permissions required to be renewed each month, and mine was dated two months before. I was so well known that I was generally suffered to pass without any interruption. It was very little satisfaction to complain, and have the man reprimanded for his stupidity; and this led me into a rather amusing collision with the sentries at another advanced post. A friend of mine, M. Eugene Vesco, a
young surgeon belonging to the “Uranie,” had agreed with me to go on an excursion up the mountain immediately behind Papeite (the settlement), but, in consequence of some rumours of native attacks, the authorities, when he applied the day before for permission, refused to allow him to expose himself. As I was in no danger I received a pass for myself and a native; however, the native was afraid to go, and so I was obliged to go by myself. As the ascent of the mountain would take several hours I set out before daylight, in order to get over the hard work in the cool of the morning, and consequently passed the advanced post for which my permit was granted before the sentries were well able to see me. After passing this post (where I was not asked for my pass), I immediately began my ascent, and the dawn overtook me on the narrow crest of a hill which was in full view of another block-house, distant about a quarter of a mile, but separated by a small valley divided into two by a small hill rising in the middle of it. When the sentries first discovered me I was just on the top of the first ascent, and at the commencement of a long, nearly level, crest, about five feet wide, which led towards the higher hills, but in a direction nearly parallel with the crest or range on which the blockhouse was placed. I had gone on perhaps two hundred yards, when I noticed somebody calling; I had heard it before, but never thought it was for me. I looked round, and saw a great commotion among the soldiers, five or six of whom had run down the side of their hill, and were in the first little valley. However, seeing that I stopped, one of them called out to me to know where I was going. I told him, and that I had a permission, which I took out and held up for him to see; this did not satisfy him, and he said I must come dow and show it. I told him that I had passed the post in the valley of St. Emilie, and that I would not take the trouble to go so far out of my way as to go to him, but that I would wait for him if he chose to come to me. “If you don't come we'll fire “—muskets pointed accordingly; but as I was determined not to undergo the detention and unnecessary fatigue of climbing up and down three steep hills merely to gratify the curiosity of a French soldier, I merely said—“tirez si vous voulez,” and jumping off the crest on to the slope was out of their sight in an instant. Not exactly liking to trust the “tigre-singe,” in case they should pursue me, I made the best of my way along the side of the hill, well knowing that by the time they arrived at the place where they saw me I should have quadrupled my distance from them, because I was progressing along a nearly level line, while they were climbing two very steep hills; and I was quite right in my calculation. When I came to the end of the ridge, and in order to continue my ascent was obliged to show myself, I saw that only one had reached the path where I had been, and at the distance which I had reached I did not much fear his one musket, especially as I knew that he must be tolerably out of breath with his exertions.
I sat down on a stone and knocked the dirt out of my shoes, just to vex him, and in five minutes more was in a place where I knew very well he would not dare venture to pursue me.
The tops of these first ranges of hills are frequently quite bare of vegetation, apparently owing to some poisonous ingredient in the soil, which is of a bright red colour, like ochre; when anything does grow on these red patches, which are always very much cut up by watercourses, it is the Metrosideros villosa, which clings to any small portion of brown soil that may have been brought down from a higher level by the rains, and makes a miserable sort of living in the midst of desolation. Where the soil is not red it is covered, in patches only, with a few dry grasses, particularly a Cenchrus, Bidens australis, stunted grasses, and Gleichenia. After passing these barren spots I came to a path along the side of a hill, which was more fertile, and was covered with other grasses, a pretty Hedysarum with purplish flowers, stray Diosmeas and Tamuses, also a large plant which I never saw anywhere else, and which appeared to be a Smilax, but it was not in flower. Several species of Cucurbitaceœ and Convolvulaceœ grow among the grass, and also several ferns worth collecting.
At the bottom of this slope, just where the path entered the bushy fringe of the little stream, is a tree of a species of Pittosporum, with insignificant greenish flowers, rare in most parts of Tahiti, but not uncommon in Morea; in general appearance, when in fruit, it strongly resembles P. undulatum. The path crosses the stream just above a pretty little cascade, overshadowed by a clump of bamboos, which grow from near the bottom; on the other side, in a sort of niche, is a plant of the féi. There are two little basins of rock through which the water passes before it falls, and it is altogether a charming place for a pic-nic. I have once or twice made my breakfast there before going further; as it is the last water on the road it is necessary to fill your bottles here for the day's supply. I intended to have made this spot a sort of wild garden, but had only time to plant one tree, a Bixa oullana, which some future botanist will perhaps wonder at finding in such a spot. On the burau and pirita trees here (Hibiscus tiliaceus and Nauclea nitida) are to be seen four or five kinds of orchideous epiphytes (Dendrobium biflorum and D. myosurus), the plant called Cgontidium umbellatum, and the two orchids so common on the small islands of the group, one with equitant leaves, and the other without any leaves at all, but merely a mass of green roots with a little scape of almost invisible flowers; I suppose them to be the plants called Epidendrum fasciolata and equitans in the catalogues, because formerly every plant which was not a Dendrobium was an Epidendrum, and vice versα.
It is no use to ascend this valley; I came down it once, and got nothing for my trouble but torn clothes. On crossing this little stream I passed under
an orange tree, and found a path leading up the face of the hill. On reaching the top I found that the crest was not over a foot wide in many places, and that on the other side was a little valley, a tributary of the Vallée de la Reine, full, apparently, of bamboos, and therefore not inviting a descent. Along the crest is to be found abundance of a curious little Ophioglossum about an inch high in the larger specimens; also good specimens of the universal Vandellia crustacea. About half a mile further up the ridge, the valley to the right begins to show some variety of vegetation; there are several fine trees of pua (Carissa grandis, But.), Weinmannias, Rhus apapi, and one species of Cyrtandra with large flowers and small leaves, which is, perhaps, different from the common ones found further up the mountain. There are also several good ferns to be found here. About a mile further on the path led alongside of a precipice, which forms one of the sides of the deep Vallée de la Reine, bare of vegetation in consequence of fires. Here are those large rambling Lycopodiums in great abundance, a curious Restiaceous (?) plant with leaves so exactly like those of an Iris that before I saw the fruit I thought it must be a Libulia, several Carices, two or three species or varieties of Metrosideros lucida, two species or varieties of Vaccinium, Arthropodium sp., erroneously calledcirrhatum (a very rare plant), and Schizœa forsteri, and many other plants. Along the side of the valley he will see Commersonia echinata, Grewia mallococca, and perhaps one or two other plants resembling them, Aplonia costata, and many other trees. On the opposite side of the valley, to the left, near the highest point of the range, I found the only specimen I have seen of a Euphorbiaceous tree, with cordate downy leaves, and the female flowers strongly resembling Stillingia.
Following on the side of the precipice, I came at last to the commencement of the bushy top of the mountain. Just before I entered the wood I found, on a tree of Dodonœa viscosa, two orchids, which I have never seen anywhere else, and, which, I believe, nobody else has ever succeeded in finding. At the time I discovered it the tree was quite covered with the plants. They are two of the smallest orchideous epiphytes I ever saw; the most abundant consisted of a green root only, of a triangular or doubly-keeled shape, running along and closely adhering to the bark, just in the way of the roots of Gunnia; the flowers were very small and inconspicuous. The other had leaves like a Gamya, but the flowers were almost invisible, and the scape was covered with very large foliaceous bracts. As I fortunately preserved the only two flowering plants in spirit, you will be able to determine the genera from the specimens.
I had now entered the damp bush surrounding the top of the mountain—the richest locality for plants that I know of in Tahiti—and every step added something new or rare to my collection. Here are to be found together
all four species of Cyathea, the commonest being the large hairy species, one of the handsomest I know, Ophioglossum sp., and O. pendulum, an excessively rare plant,* two or three Acrostichums, aBotrychium, two beautiful epiphytal Lycopodiums, and a most exquisite terrestrial flat-branched species resembling a fern in appearance, two species of Angiopteris, the gigantic sweet-scented species, nai or nahi of the natives, of which there is here the largest specimen I ever saw, with leaves fifteen feet long, and the smaller eatable species, or pura (purra), which the natives tell me is only found in three places in the island. I observe that they are very difficult to distinguish in the dry state; when alive they are easily distinguished by the leaflets of the pura being somewhat crumpled or bullate, while those of A. erecta are longer and quite flat. Here, too, is the prickly fern found by M. Vesco, but overlooked by me; in fact, the wood is full of rare ferns, both terrestrial and epiphytal. Here I found a plant which I should feel certain was a Commelina if I had not been before deceived with what I afterwards found to be an orchid. I have never been able to find it in flower, but have live plants doing well. I have also found anAstelia, but forgot to pick up the specimen which I tore down from the tree which I had ascended for the purpose.
Passing the wood I began to ascend a steep wall of earth which forms the extreme summit of the range, finding on the ascent a plant of the Restiaceœ, with leaves like a Marica five feet long, and, at the top, the Coprosma (which, however, I need not have gone so high for), and the plant I have previously mentioned as possibly one of the Celastraceœ, and which has, hitherto, been only found in this place. There is almost as great a variety among the trees and shrubs as among the ferns, but I do not recollect more than two or three peculiar to this locality; one is an Urticaceous tree with spikes of fruit resembling a Piper; another, a very large-leaved Cyrtandra, making the fifth species in Tahiti. Four species may be found at this spot: two of them slender, twiggy shrubs, and the other two strong, upright-growing plants, with leaves a foot long, and huge heads of sweet-scented white flowers, as large as Achimenes grandiflora; one species is very common in all damp situations inland, whether mountain or valley; it has thin wrinkled leaves; the species which I have only seen here has equally large leaves, but they are fleshy, smooth, and white underneath. It is a strange thing that I have never but once found a fruit on the common kind, although all the others ripen and seed abundantly. In the common sort the peduncles are very short, and the immature seed vessels appear always to be destroyed by the rotting of the great fleshy mass of decaying bracts and calices surrounding them. They would
[Footnote] * It was discovered by my friend M. Vesco that the sporules of Ophioglossum are inflammable, like those of Lycopodium, which they exactly resemble in appearance. Is this generally known?
be superb plants in a stove, and I hope I may succeed in sending them alive to England, as this is the only way by which you will be able to see them, it being quite impossible to dry specimens; they will rot in spite of anything that can be done. I am very sorry I never thought of taking some bottles of spirit up the mountains with me to put them in, or of writing descriptions of them on the spot. There is also growing here another very large-leaved plant, which I at first took for another Cyrtandra; it, however, turned out to be a Cinchoniaceous plant, with enormous deciduous stipules and thick downy flowers three inches long, which I never found but once.
One great disadvantage of going alone on these expeditions was that I could not carry any paper with me, and by the time I returned to Papeite the greater portion of my large specimens of ferns was spoiled by the heat, or by having been crammed too hard into my tin box; and as I had but very little time to spare, and it was very difficult to get any person to do anything out of the ordinary way, I never could manage to find time to make any kind of straps for carrying a portfolio on my shoulders, and it would have been quite beyond my powers to have carried it any other way up the Tahitian mountains.
In coming back I lost my way, in consequence of overlooking the proper place for descending from the main ridge to the watering place I have spoken of. I found out my error in time to have rectified it if I had pleased, but knowing that I was on a ridge which must lead down to the Vallée de la Reine, which I was perfectly acquainted with, I thought I would try if it might not be an easier road than the one by which I came. I had, however, abundant occasion to repent of my temerity, for when I arrived at the end of the high part of the ridge; and had descended a long slope of earth which it was impossible to think of climbing again, I found myself cut off from the valley by a precipice, which I was obliged to skirt for about a mile, through long grass which cut my face and hands, and bind-weeds which constantly tripped me up, over logs and stones, momentarily in danger of falling over the face of the cliff, which, after all, was only about 50 feet high. I at length found a break in the rock through which I managed to slip, and the rest of the way down to the valley, although it was over loose stones over which I was obliged to make my way in a sitting posture for fear of falling, was comparatively easy. If it had not been raining a deluge the whole time not one of my specimens would have been worth anything by the time I got to Papeite; they would have been dry; as it was they were terribly bruised and torn, and, of course, many lost. Another time I lost my whole day's work through missing my way in a valley at the commencement of my journey in the dark, and trying to recover myself by climbing the side of a hill covered with fern (Gleichenia), which turned out to be so strong and high that, although I had not above
half a mile to go before I got to the top, where it was reasonably good walking, I was fairly tired out before I reached any place where I could expect to find any plants worth collecting.
Another time I will give you an account of a journey I made to the camp of the “enemy,” or insurgents, as the French call the independent Tahitians.
Fataua is the name of a valley through which a stream runs that passes within a mile of Papeite, and which was, before the war, the chief bathing-place of the inhabitants. The stream, like most of the others in Tahiti, appears to increase in size as you ascend it, so that at the first crossing place, about four miles from the sea, it appears almost worthy of the name of river, which no one would think of applying to it lower down. In or about six miles after entering the valley there is nothing to be found in it worthy of looking after, it being a dry open valley, and consequently full of guava trees which always exclude all the indigenous vegetation. After crossing the stream about sixteen times you arrive at a division of it into two nearly equal parts. I once followed up the left-hand branch, but found my progress stopped after going about two miles, by the narrowing of the valley, and by the chasm through which the stream flowed being choked up by rocks; the vegetation, too, consisted of Scitamineœ and féis, the neighbourhood of which is always a very good, harvest ground for the conchologist, but very bad for the botanist.
The right-hand stream appears at the first to be smaller than the other, but if followed for about half a mile it again branches into two; this time the left-hand one is decidedly the largest, and, in fact, it is the main stream of Fataua. If it could be followed for about a mile I have no doubt but that a rich harvest of mosses, etc., might be collected from the rocks at the bottom of the cascade, where it falls about 250 feet clear into the centre of a large amphitheatre of perpendicular rocks. This fall I have only seen from above, and I do not know if anybody has ever visited the lower part, or whether it is possible so to do. The scenery—with the mountains sloping down on each side towards the great cavern into which the stream appears to be engulfed— is magnificent in the extreme. Instead of following either stream, I one day mounted the ridge dividing the two lower ones, and, after a little search, found a well-beaten path, which, after following about two miles, brought me in sight of the chief pa, or fort of the natives, which consists of a mud wall with embrasures crossing the valley on the top of a small lateral ridge, just above the waterfall, and facing the shelving precipice along which leads the path by which every one who wishes to enter the upper valley must approach. As the wall of rock below is quite perpendicular for a considerable distance, and the mountains above almost too steep for anything even to grow upon, and, moreover, composed of a soft crumbly sort of greywacke, which is always coated
“with a thin covering of greasy soil; this fort may reasonably be considered as impregnable, in fact ten men might defend it against ten thousand. Nothing here so much convinced me of the cowardice of the Tahitians as seeing this place, and knowing that when the French marched to attack it, they not only advanced to within two hundred yards of it, but that when they got there the natives who were in the fort ran away after firing one or two muskets; fortunately, or unfortunately, the French received orders to return just at the same time, and never knew that the defence was abandoned. As I had this account from the natives themselves at the spot, there can hardly be any doubt of its truth. When I asked them why they did not stay in the fort and kill every Frenchman who attempted to cross the narrow path, they said that there were very few men in the fort, and they were so astonished at the hardihood of the soldiers in coming so far that they never thought of fighting, but threw away their muskets and ran up the mountains as fast as they could. The cowardice and imbecility of the defenders (!!!) of this valley can hardly be understood by a person who does not know the country, but you may have some idea of it when I tell you that the valley must be as narrow and more difficult than the Kyber Pass, with the additional advantage to the defenders of the sides of the mountains being covered with trees, which would effectually shelter them from the fire of the attacking party, and that of 800 soldiers who marched up it, only about forty altogether were killed and wounded. Who can feel any interest in such a pack of cowards? Had they been any other people in the world than Tahitians there can be no doubt that not a Frenchman would have returned alive to tell the tale.
On the road to the pa I found a tree in flower, with handsome leaves growing at the ends of the branches, like a Terminalia, and with a vast profusion of flowers growing out of the trunk and root as well as the branches; these flowers were hexandrous, and appeared to resemble those of Laurinœ, but the fruit was just like that of ægiurus; the leaves of this were lanceolate and simple, but M. Vesco tells me that he found, at Borabora, another tree with the same flowers and mode of inflorescence, of which the leaves were digitate, like Caroliniœ.
Before I had left the stream I saw some way up the mountain what appeared to be a tree with red flowers, but as I had never heard of such a thing in the island I was obliged to content myself (as I could not approach it) with thinking that it might only be the stipules of Nauclea. However, just before I came to the foot I saw, almost ten feet below me, another plant, which I immediately recognized to be the same, and to be an Erythrina, which I take it is quite new, unless it should be the one attributed to the Sandwich Islands under the name of Monosperma. When I arrived at the narrow path it was nearly dark, but I could see a great commotion in the pa; however, I walked
on without taking any notice until I was close enough to hear what they said, when I found that that they had immediately recognized me for a Piritani, or Englishman, and that I was quite welcome. My attendant, a long Yankee of full six feet, presently made his appearance, having lagged behind because he considered it the most prudent course to keep his precious person out of sight until he discovered how I was received. I soon recognized two or three women as old acquaintances, and through their good report was soon made quite at home in the house of the chief, which, not being a large one, was given up to me for a sleeping apartment. After making a good tea with the things I had brought with me, I had a long talk with the natives about the war, and elicited the information I have given you above. Next morning, at six o'clock, I started up the valley, by which I hoped to reach the summit of the high triangular peak of the Crown mountain, as it is called, which is nearly as high as any point in the island.
The valley widened out considerably more after leaving the pa, but as the greater portion had been in cultivation or was covered with fei trees, I did not find much. I found, however, one rock covered with a plant I had previously only seen in the valley of Piré, and which I had then taken for one of the Commelineœ; it was here in flower, and turned out to be orchideous, but very insignificant. It had round, upright, fleshy stems and pointed oval somewhat serrated leaves, so that I think I might be excused the mistake. The first new plants I saw were on a small ridge which we crossed in order to avoid a long bend of the stream; I here found Alyxia stellata, Nelitris jambosella, and the Arthropodium for the first time, besides one or two Myrtaceœ not in flower. About a mile further on I saw a very handsome downy-leaved Metrosideros growing out of a rock in the middle of the stream, and on a hill, which I ascended by mistake, I found two species of a curious tree with jointed branches, like a pepper, opposite oval serrated leaves and long lax racemes of small, blackish fruit. This is not an uncommon plant, but I have never seen it in flower. On the side of this hill I saw great numbers of my new Erythrina in full flower, but only one within reach. They varied in colour from almost white to scarlet, and unfortunately the one I was able to get at was a pale flesh-coloured one; it was entirely without prickles, and had a very downy calyx, and fruit which appeared to be monospermous, but were too young to be certain of. The trees were entirely naked, but some twigs which I brought with me have grown in my plant cases, so that I shall be able to describe it from cultivated specimens. This was the very last plant I found of any interest. I continued on up the valley until about two o'clock without finding anything more. At the point where I turned I passed a tree quite covered with a sweet-scented orchideous epiphyte, which I had not seen before, except in one spot, and Lobelia arborea was very common; but
although this would have been very interesting to my French friends, it was not so to me, as it had happened, curiously enough, that I had never gone out by myself without finding it, and they only knew it from my specimens, having never been able to meet with it, even when I directed them to the spot where I had gathered it. It is a curious enough plant from its true arborescent habit, but the flowers are not handsome, being dark green, stained on the lip with purple; they are somewhat remarkable for their coriaceous texture and for being sweet-scented, a character I do not recollect among Lobeliaceœ. There is a closely allied species at the island of Raiatea, which is much regarded by the natives, who consider it in some manner as sacred to the Queen. It is, I believe, very rare. The flower is white, but otherwise just like the other, save that I do not hear that it is “noa-noa” (sweet-scented); the stems appear very succulent, and the leaves are lanceolate, finely serrated, and very much crowded on the ends of the branches. The native name is “tiari apatai”; “tiari” means a flower, or more particularly the flower of the Gardenia; I never could discover the meaning of the second word. I promised a woman who was going to Raiatea a new handkerchief if she would bring me up seeds or a plant of it, but she did not return before I left. I also promised a sister of the Queen's to give her a plant of the double Gardenia, of which I was the sole possessor, and which is so much coveted that I might have got for it almost anything I had chose to ask. I left the Gardenia with a friend who will give her the plant and forward the seed to me when she gets it, which, through her sister, she will no doubt be able to do.
I found that it would take, as the natives had told me at the pa, a whole day at least to get to the top of the Crown, and I therefore was obliged to give up the attempt for the time, fully intending to return some other day when I had more time at my disposal, but just when I was thinking of again making the attempt I received a message from the natives to request me not to come, because the natives at Punaria, another stronghold at the other end of the pass, were jealous of my having been there. I should still have made the attempt before I left the island if I had not been attacked with an illness which made me fear the effects of walking so much in the water, as I should have been obliged to do in ascending the valley.