Today’s article will take us on a promenade (that's French for walk or stroll) to a nice waterfall in Plaine des Palmistes, an area on the Eastern side of Reunion Island.
To reach Plaine des Palmistes ("palmiste" stands for edible palm trees) we have to drive along the "route des Plaines" which is the only road going across Reunion, from the western coast to the eastern coast; the other main road circles around the coastal areas. We will first pass Plaine des Caffres where there is access to a volcano, perhaps one of our future hikes. After passing the "Col de Bellevue" which is some 1600m (4800 feet) high, we have a great view of the east and the village of Plaine des Palmistes itself before the road winds down through a lush vegetation dominated by endemic tree ferns (Cyathea borbonica, C. excelsa and C. glauca).
We drive through the village, enjoying some colorful typical Creole houses called "cases," then drive past City Hall and soon reach a small parking place. It's empty as we are rather early (the early bird catches the worm!) Speaking of birds, here comes a charming little one, Saxicola tectes locally known as ‘tec-tec' which is endemic to Reunion (remember, an endemic species means it will be found in the wild only in a given place.) This one is small but very familiar and will probably follow us on the trail, briefly perching itself on a twig then flying further on. Let us lace our shoes and get ready; this is a short and easy promenade but reliable shoes are nonetheless required as we will step on large stones and walk across a stream. The area is also pretty muddy as rainfall is important here. And you may want to keep your jumper on, we are at 1070m (3200 feet) high. From the road we can get a first view of the waterfall which is some 2km away and is 240m (720 feet) high, the top is partially hidden in fog. We may get some raindrops but nothing can stop us now, en route!
Yummy strawberry guavas!
The beginning of the trail is flanked by a mix of indigenous plants and various exotic invaders amongst which Psidium cattleyanum (the strawberry guava) is one of the most aggressive. It originates from Brazil and was already recorded on Reunion (at this time it was the "île Bourbon") in 1818 and since then it has spread all over the highlands where it sometimes grows so thick than nothing else can compete. Now the good thing is that it bears very edible red fruits which are a balance of sweet and acid, very rich in Vitamin C, and we will freely indulge all along the walk. As hygrometry is high all year round there are many epiphytic species here and there: mosses, lichens, ferns and orchids (epiphytic plants grow on other plants such as trees and bushes using them only as a support, they are not parasitic). Some large branches completely disappear under an amazing variety of such opportunistic plants. Imagine how much weight they add when they all get socked with water after one of the frequent showers! There are also ferns growing on the ground and a few terrestrial orchids such as Calanthe sylvatica with its delicious shades of pale purple. Stop and have a look on the right, those strange cannonball-like things hanging on long pendulous stalks are the fruits of Ficus mauritiana which is endemic to both Reunion
Fruits of Ficus mauritiana
and Mauritius, the rather large fruits are said to be edible though insipid. We have now reached a creek called "le Grand Bras Patience" which we have to cross. The stream is rather low but rocks are extremely slippery so beware, I do not want you to swim before we get to the waterfall! All right, we safely reached the trail which is ornamented on both sides by Hedychium flavescens, another very highly invasive species of the Zingiberaceae family. It has colonized many parts of Reunion and its thick rhizomes can cover the ground in such a way that virtually no other plant can grow, its only charm comes from its decorative flower spikes which also produce a nice perfume.
Here we are, we just reached the bottom of the waterfall, it makes a pool deep and wide enough to swim for those of you who are not cold sensitive, as this is mountain water! I also hope that no flibbertigibbet here has forgotten his camera at home; the sight is really worth at least a dozen pictures. We will sit and enjoy the place, I did bring my vacuum flask with vanilla tea if you want, a special tea prepared in Mauritius.
Is everyone rested and ready to stroll back? All right then, let us go. Stay vigilant, the drizzle has made the boulders even more slippery so please watch your steps. Now you
can keep an eye on the path and one of the surrounding plants, this small bush on the right with the numerous tiny red balls is Ardisia crenata, a member of the Myrsinaceae family and yet another invasive species called "arbre de Noël" (Christmas tree) - you can probably guess why! Look at all those perfectly ripe strawberry guavas just over your head, I will bend the flexible branch for you, enjoy! Just by the stream we are to cross again you can see Boehmeria penduliflora which belongs to the Urticaceae family just like the nettles but it does not sting, it is very common in wet areas and is also a pioneer plant as it is amongst the first ones to colonize recent lava flows. We are now almost back at the parking place, just slow down a little to admire this tree fern, Cyathea borbonica which seems to emerge from a sea of Dicranopteris linearis, another fern which tends to invade disturbed lands in sunny places. Well, everybody is
Endemic tree fern and invasive ones
back and safe as I can see, just a little wet and muddy but this is part of the game, keep your hiking gear at hand as we will pretty soon go for another discover of natural wonders of Reunion Island!
And as some French-speaking readers will inevitably wonder why this waterfall is called "biberon," (which means baby bottle.) The reason is very simple; it comes from Mr. Biberon, who was at one time the head of the local forest department!
Ready for a resfreshing swim?
About Jean-Jacques Segalen
I am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) since 20 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon
Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it at http://www.barbadine.com/pages/livrejjGB.html