Christmas Island: Galapagos of the Indian Ocean
I was surprised to learn that the island wasn't permanently settled until 1882. Located in the Indian Ocean on the rim of South East Asia, Christmas Island is an Australian External Territory about 1600 miles northwest of Perth, Australia. Its shape reminiscent of an outstretched dog posing at a show, the rugged terrain and lack of arable land has kept the population of the island fairly sparse. It currently numbers about 1,400. A small island, Christmas Island is only 35 miles long and 25 miles wide.
Many of you may know the tune. Jimmy Buffett did a version of it several years ago. In any event, one thought led to another. Soon I was at the computer, wondering exactly where Christmas Island is located, what its history is, and, being a gardener, what grows there.
Christmas Island Song
Today the island has an interesting mix of people and cultures. The diverse population includes Chinese, Australian/Europeans, and Malaysians. The wide range of ethnic festivals held throughout the year reflects that diversity. All are permanent residents of Australia and most hold Australian citizenship. Phosphate mining and tourism-which is on the rise-are economic mainstays.
The climate, as you might expect, is tropical. The wet season runs from December to April, and the rest of the year is quite dry. Heat and humidity are moderated by trade winds.
There is enough rain annually to sustain a rainforest that's practically primeval. In fact, Christmas Island is often called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. There are many plant and animal species on the island that are found nowhere else. It was also named as one of the finalists in the seven wonders of the natural world. The red crab migration during October and November was listed by David Attenborough, a well-known documentary filmmaker, as one of his 10 greatest wildlife experiences.
Along with the population of the island came numerous non-native species of both fauna and flora. It's the native species, however, that merit special attention. I was particularly interested in the native plants that grow there. Here is what I found.
The table below is a sampling of some of the 18 plant species that are found only on Christmas Island. Missing images and incomplete descriptions are due to the fact that the lsland is relatively new to civilization, its geography is rugged, and that much work remains to be done to record and study its plant life. (Some images in the table are offered as "look-alikes" and are in the same genus as the Christmas Island species.) Australia took a big step in the right direction, when it set aside 63% of Christmas Island as a National Park. Endangered species can be more easily protected and everyone can study and enjoy the unique plant life on this exotic, far-away island. I'll be adding Christmas Island to my must-see list.
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(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 29, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
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