Saturday, 3 May 2014

Jardin d'Eden

Reunion's 'Garden of Eden' is a tropical, ethnobotanical garden spread over two and a half hectares on the island's west coast at St Gilles.

Entrance to the Jardin d'Eden

The Garden is divided into a number of theme areas: ethnobotany, fragrant plants, a zen garden, an aquatic area, and also has some bee hives. It is a member of  Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Association of Botanical Gardens of France, and the French National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.

The Jardin d'Eden reception area in an enormous oak vat, built in
1847 and which contained 510,000 litres of rum!

600 different plants grow in the garden. Most are labelled with their latin and local names, plant family and place of origin. The labels use a colour-coded system: yellow for medicinal plants, red for fragrant plants, white for those used for edible or dyeing purposes and green for plants that are simply attractive to look at! There are also endemic, sacred and spice plants as well as palm trees, cacti and bamboo.


The plant families with the most varieties are: Euphorbiaceae and Liliaceae (40+ each); Leguminosae, Apocynaceae and Palmae (30+ each); Acanthaceae, Araceae, Gramineae and Cactaceae (20+ each).

About 60 noteworthy plants are explained in greater detail in a booklet (in French, English or German) that is lent to you at the start of the visit.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus / Ballonplant / Ti-ouete

Cannabis in Reunion island is called 'zamal', from the Malagasy word zamala. It doesn't grow wild on the island, only where it has been planted (generally in the middle of a field of maize or sugar cane)! In the Garden it's been planted in a 19th-century copper cauldron used by Mme Desbassyns to feed the slaves on her plantation in order to symbolise the slavery that the use of cannabis entails.

Cannabis sativa / Cannabis / Zamal 

Hibiscus calyphyllus / Lemon Yellow Rosemallow 

Vetiveria zizaniodes / Vetiver / Vetyver

bamboo root

Crescentia cujete / Calabash / Calebassier, native to Panama

Pomegranates were brought back from the East via Northern Africa by the Romans at the time of the Punic Wars, hence its Latin name Punica. (Modern-day Tunisia roughly corresponds to what was Punic territory). The fruit peel, stalks and roots of pomegranates can be used for their yellow colouring properties and are used to dye Tunisian carpets and tan Moroccan leathers. According to Chinese medicine the pomegranate is also an efficient vermifuge, in particular for tapeworm.

Punica granatum nana / Dwarf Pomegranate / Grenadier nain, native to Iran

Ficus aspera / Clown Fig / Figuier clown, native to the S. Pacific

A number of animal species visit or live in the Garden such as moorhens, bitters, turtledoves, waxbills, and bulbuls.


In the aquatic zone is papyrus, used by the Egyptians to make parchment. Papyrus have a ball-like head made of thread-like leaves.

Cyperus papyrus / Papyrus

in the aquatic area

in the aquatic area

For most of the year the Lipstick tree (or 'Achiote') looks like an ordinary shrub (see below). But between May and August it bears scarlet fruit that have long been used by the American Indians to dye their hair and skin; a paste can also be made to colour lips. These 'redskins' fought Francisco de Orellana when he explored South America in 1541-42 and the scientific name refers to him. One tree gives 150-250kg per year of  seeds and pulp containing  carotenoids and tannin. Today, as well as being found in lipstick, the red dye from this shrub is also used in the paraffin coating of certain Dutch cheeses.

Bixa orellana / Lipstick tree / Roucou, native to tropical America

The Golden dewdrop is the garden's mascot plant. Its fruit are odourless but toxic and can only be eaten by birds. It has purple flowers which smell like vanilla, hence it's local name of "wild vanilla".

Duranta repens / Golden dewdrop  / Vanillier marron

In a climate like that of Reunion, the long furry red catkins of the Chenille plant flower all year round. The catkins are made of thousands of tiny flowers and are only found on female plants.

Acalypha hispida / Chenille plant / Queue de mimite, native to India

The 'Traveller's palm' is the emblem of Madagascar however it is not a true palm but a member of the bird-of-paradise family, Strelitziaceae. Ravenala, as it is known locally, means 'leaf of the forest' in Malagasy. The sheaths of its stems hold rainwater, which supposedly could be used as an emergency drinking supply for needy travellers. However, the water inside the plant is murky, black and smelly and should not be consumed without purification. Another plausible reason for its name is that the fan tends to grow on an east-west line, providing a crude compass reference. Its leaves can be used to roof huts or for medical treatments such as generalised oedema.

Ravenala madagascariensis / Traveller's tree / Arbre du voyageur

The Garden is open daily from 10am to 6pm, closed only for Christmas and New Year's Days.

See also the Garden's own website (in English and French) for the address and contact details.

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