Sunday, 15 September 2013

Mascarin Botanical Conservatory

The Mascarin Botanical Conservatory (Conservatoire Botanique de Mascarin) is a botanical garden and national conservatory covering 12.5 hectares located above Saint-Leu at an elevation of 500 metres.

Like several other places in Reunion it's somewhere I'd visited before, about 15 years ago, but not recently.

water lily & fish

It's home to plants that are endemic to Réunion and found nowhere else in the world, and also has collections of coffee trees, tropical fruit trees, palm trees, cacti, orchids and ferns. 


It was established in 1986 on land which originally belonged to the family of the Marquis Antoine Sosthène Armand de Châteauvieux.

looking across the garden to the adjacent hillsides

In 1993 it became one of France's eight Conservatoires Botaniques Nationaux (National Botanical Conservatories). It not only focuses on the conservation, cultivation and propagation of rare and threatened plants endemic to Réunion, but also the management and monitoring of species in their natural habitats.

cup of gold vine and bougainvillea

  • Indigenous (or native) - an organism growing naturally, brought by birds or wind but not by man, the same organism may be found elsewhere in the world. Reunion has 848 indigenous species, which account for 49% of the island's flora. 605 species are flowering plants, and the remaining 243 species are spore-producing (e.g. ferns).
  • Endemic - a unique native organism which is confined to a well-defined area and has evolved into a species of its own. Of the 848 indigenous species, 237 (28%) are endemic to Reunion, and 153 (18%) are endemic to the Mascarene Islands.
  • Exotic - an organism introduced by man. Reunion has 867 exotic species (not counting cultivated plants).

The actual garden covers 3 hectares and contains about 4000 plant species endemic to the Mascarene Islands. It's organised into seven sections:
  • Réunion collection - indigenous flora, including more than 50 endemic species.
  • 'Lontan' plants - a historical collection of local agricultural plants, including coffee, spices, fruit trees, sugar cane, and geraniums.
  • Orchard - more than 50 fruit tree species.
  • Succulents - succulent plants and exotic cacti, including species from the Americas and Africa.
  • Palm trees - endemic and exotic palm trees.
  • Orchids - orchids and ferns.
  • Bamboo ravine - bamboos.

colour-coded map showing the Garden's seven different sections

The Mascarene islands consist of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues. While Reunion has managed to keep 30-40% of its original vegetation, in Mauritius this figure drops to 2% and on Rodrigues it's less than 4%. Although Rodrigues has  50 indigenous species and 40 endemic species all of the latter are considered rare, endangered or vulnerable.

artwork in the garden using wire and organic matter

We started our visit by a guided tour of the Reunion collection, which represents what the leeward, semi-arid west coast probably looked like about 400 years ago before humans arrived.

general view of part of the Reunion collection

The Mazambron marron (aloe macra) is a species of Aloe endemic to Reunion. It was formerly used to treat boils and to wean breastfed babies as it has a bitter taste.

Aloe macra,  known as Mazambron marron

The Song of India or Pleomele (Dracaena reflexa), known locally as Bois de Chandelle, can sometimes grow up to 15 metres high but its normal height is 4-5 metres. It's often used as a tutor for vanilla cultivation.

Bois de chandelle / Song of India

The collection of cacti and succulents show how plants have the ability to adapt to particularly difficult conditions such as lack of water.

view of the cactus & succulent collection, showing a baobab (right)

The Crown of thorns is a succulent shrub indigenous to Madagascar which can grow  to about 2 metres tall.

Crown of thorns

The cactus known as Barbary fig is native to Mexico, but can also be found in many other parts of the world.

Barbary fig flowers

the fruits of the barbary fig are known as tuna

an interesting 'prickly' tree trunk 

The palm collection not only presents species endemic to Reunion, but also from other countries. The Red Latan Palm is an endangered species of palm endemic to Reunion which can grow up to 12 metres high. Its trunk was used for house construction, its leaves were used for roofing and its fruit, known locally as pomme latanier, is the island's only endemic fruit.

Red Latan Palm known as Latanier Rouge in Reunion

I was interested to see the four talipots, a palm which is native to Sri Lanka. The ones in the garden have not yet reached their full height, which can be 25 metres. What is remarkable about these palms is that they flower once, only after up to 70 years. It takes a year for the fruit to mature, then the palm dies. I've only ever seen one talipot flower, in the 1990s in Saint Denis' Jardin de l'Etat.


There are 100 000 species of  orchids and 10 000 species of ferns in the world - obviously the Mascarin Garden can only show a tiny percentage of these. Reunion has 120 species of endemic orchids.

these ferns have been planted in an old manure storage pit

Cymbidium orchid

Vanda orchid

On the property the main house and some outbuildings have survived. They were built by the Marquis Antoine Sosthènes d'Armand de Chateauvieux who settled here in 1857 with his wife and ten children. His estate originally covered 660 hectares, stretching from the coast to the mountains. 

the main house

The interior of the main house has been renovated and decorated with period furniture.

back of the main house

the old stables have been converted into an outdoor eating area

Useful information:
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Guided visits at 11 a.m. (except Saturdays), 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. 
  • An admission fee is charged.

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