Would this sort of reading be cliche now ? Well, to a Mauritian, no. It is heartbreakingly serious. We are losing the Tambalacoque tree very rapidly and only a dozen are believed to be still alive.
You would want to know why am I talking about a tree which is almost extinct when there are thousands of species which share the same fate. First of all, the Tambalacoque tree cannot fail to impress you with its majestic sight. It is child’s dream to play around those multiple roots and vast shades of its sprawling thick branches.
Tambalacoque (formerly Calvaria major), also called the Dodo Tree, is a long-lived tree in the family Sapotaceae, endemic to Mauritius. The Dodo Tree is valued for its timber. Tambalacoque is analogous to Peach. Both have a hard endocarp surrounding the seed, but the endocarp naturally splits along a fracture line during germination.
To aid the seed in germination, botanists now use turkeys and gem polishers to erode the endocarp to allow germination.This tree is highly valued for its wood in Mauritius, which has led some foresters to scrape the pits by hand to make them sprout and grow.
In 1973, it was thought that this species was dying out. There were supposedly only 13 specimens left, all estimated to be about 300 years old. The true age could not be determined because Tambalacoque has no growth rings. Stanley Temple hypothesized that the Dodo, which became extinct in the 17th century, ate tambalacoque fruits, and only by passing through the digestive tract of the Dodo could the seeds germinate. Temple (1977) force-fed seventeen tambalacoque fruits to Wild Turkeys and three germinated. Temple did not try to germinate any seeds from control fruits not fed to turkeys so the effect of feeding fruits to turkeys was unclear. Reports made on tambalacoque seed germination by Hill (1941) and King (1946) found the seeds germinated without abrading.
Temple’s hypothesis that the tree required the dodo has been contested. Others have suggested the decline of the tree was exaggerated, or that other extinct animals may also have been distributing the seeds, such as tortoises, fruit bats or the Broad-billed Parrot. Wendy Strahm and Anthony Cheke, two experts in Mascarene ecology, claim that while a rare tree, it has germinated since the demise of the Dodo and numbers a few hundreds, not 13. The difference in numbers is because young trees are not distinct in appearance and may easily be confused with similar species. The decline of the tree may possibly be due to introduced pigs and Crab-eating Macaques and competition with introduced plants. Catling (2001) in a summary cites Owadally and Temple (1979), and Witmer (1991). Hershey (2004) reviewed the flaws in Temple’s dodo-tambalacoque hypothesis.
To me, the Tambalacoque remains my favourite tree along with the Talipot palm to grace the unique image I retain of my native island. Although the shore is fringed by beautiful Casuarinas, the island flora never failed to excite me whenever I ventured inland to see these wonders. From the giants water lilies of the Botanical gardens which can hold 4 seated men in its span, to the tall Talipot which blooms only once every 100 years !, and the Trochetia’s shy blush make me think again when I see plants left to the destructive hands of man.
Below pics of the Giant Amazon Lily in Mauritius, the Casuarina or Filaos tree as it is affectionately called, the Talipot Palm or Centenary tree, and the Trochetia. The Trochetia like the others, is endemic to Mauritius and is also the national flower. The national carrier ‘Air Mauritius’ has named its latest aircraft after it.
One of my Designs, Cover stamp.