While getting drunk with the smells and colors of the Guadeloupean countryside, it is instinctively believed that all the plants that we cross – those that are eaten like those we just admire, for example the extraordinary porcelain roses with fleshy petals- have always been present in these islands born between 50 and 5 million years ago of volcanic activity under the Caribbean Sea. It is not so. The first were brought first by the winds, the sea currents and then by the migratory birds. In a second time, the inhabitants with multiple origins who came over the centuries, by will or force, to populate these islands, brought other plants, and in particular cultivated plants …
Visitors who have the good idea to discover, on the island of Basse-Terre, the extraordinary botanical garden of Dehaies, will find an explanatory panel leaves no doubt about it. "Guadeloupe is rich in a very diverse flora that helps to make it a" hot spot "of global biodiversity recognized by UNESCO," it says, before adding: "Scientists estimate that of the 3200 species of flowering plants and seeds present in the French West Indies, only 55% are indigenous. Exogenous plants, coming from various parts of the planet, imported for food, medicinal, industrial or ornamental purposes, account for 45% of this formidable plant palette. One-third of them are now naturalized or in the process of naturalization, ie present in the natural environments of the archipelago ".
> To read also: Guadeloupe, an archipelago and a thousand flavors.
The explanatory panel gives a date of arrival in Guadeloupe of sugar cane and banana that still weighs so heavily in its economy. But also coffee, and cocoa we visited farms (see previous post), but also vanilla. Or coconut tree, so present in the archipelago that it would have been there forever. And yet, according to this panel, the coconut tree would have arrived at the beginning of the 18th century. This is an extraordinary example of building a landscape. This journey of plants reveals many other surprises. Thus, I imagined that the bread tree, so imposing (up to 15 meters high) whose fruits are so popular in Creole cuisine (they are eaten cooked in fries, mashed potatoes and gratin) was in Guadeloupe since always. Error, he arrived in 1796.
Naively, I had also imagined cassava had been brought from Africa by black slaves. Not at all, explained me Germaine who holds a maniocrie (ie a restaurant that serves only patties (cassava) made from cassava flour, stuffed with cod, vegetables, coconut) on the Ilet Peru, in the municipality of Capesterre-Belle-Eau. During this very nice evening (good to know: each participant must bring his cutlery and drink), I learned all that is feasible with cassava, but also that this very abundant root in the markets, was brought by … the Amerindians: "it was the basis of their diet. Then, this heritage was passed on to the slaves, "explains Germaine, who is quick to praise the 1000s and a cassava effect, known to activate the intestinal flora, to be devoid of fat, gluten, etc.
The botanical garden of Dehaies is not only an ideal place to become acquainted with the richness of the Guadeloupian flora. It is also, and first, an enchanting place. You can stroll with delight for hours (it takes at least two or three hours but you can spend the day there, there is a restaurant and also accommodation), it's a feast for the eyes , a journey for the senses – for young and old – and a rest for body and soul. No, I'm not exaggerating! Located on a slope facing the sea, it offers a multitude of nooks and crannies and various atmospheres.
Children will not be bored for a minute! Near the entrance, a pond filled with koi carp awaits them. Obviously, some visitors do not fail to throw crumbs to these fish. It is at once the rush and the rat race. Not only do the carp rush to the shore where this proverbial manna comes from, but, voracious, they jump on top of each other to try to catch some crumbs. The show is striking, and even a bit trivial … But the children are shouting with pleasure.
A little away, the attention of children (and also, let's be honest, adults) will be polarized by the lorikeets who live in an immense aviary where we can photograph them at leisure. With their yellow hooked beak and their yellow head, these little parrots are a festival of colors: a blue head, but red, yellow, green, purple feathers … They are, it seems, with a tongue shaped brush to suck the nectar of flowers! A little further, the visitor will be seduced by large macaws parrots. Another festival of brightly colored feathers!
Further on, at the edge of another basin, an additional surprise awaits the visitor: a band of very pink flamingos, almost red even. Flamingos lived in the wild in the Saint-François region until the middle of the 20th century. Then they disappeared. These are the pioneers of a reintroduction of a species living in Cuba. You can see them, perched on their long stilts, one imagines them tranquil, a little asleep by the sun and the proximity of the water. What nay! They are throwing their long necks in all directions, making a noise of hell. Some even engage in a strange ballet, of which we do not know if it is a love parade or a real fight. We hesitate. It lasts a long time, anyway. We remain there, fascinated by these birds whose bill is huge and a little misshapen, which we had never realized before …
Of course, the surprises are initially vegetal. As you walk, you will see countless colorful plants: porcelain rose, red ginger, bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchids, begonias and so on … and of course, countless baskets remarkable inflorescences, pendulous or erect, but always violently colored.
All the scents and colors of the tropics are there. We discover in passing banana varieties of ornament that give only purple flowers. These are purely decorative. But the West Indies also harbor a number of varieties of bananas that are eaten, and which have, in Creole, very specific names. We have our heads spinning.
At the edge of a small body of water fed by an astonishing wall of water, one finds even Adenium obesumin other words, desert roses with bright pink petals. They are succulent plants that come from Arabia and East Africa but who, it seems, appreciate the drought …
And then there are coconut trees of course. But also several "traveler's trees" (ravenala madagascariensis) with such a picturesque silhouette. This true plant sculpture inevitably attracts the eye. Still an essence of distant origin. It comes indeed from … Madagascar. But why is it the traveler's tree? It is simple, as often: its sap, very abundant, is drinkable. It is enough to give a good blow of machete to extract it and to quench the thirsty traveler. Hence his nickname.
And, among other remarkable trees, a huge Ceiba Pentandrain other words, a cheese maker whose trunk draws extraordinarily graphic forms … This giant tree typical of moderately humid valleys imposes itself here, with great majesty. As its leaves had fallen at the time of our visit, the architecture of this tree was particularly highlighted: horizontal master branches, foothills that form surprising contortions … This cheese maker is one of the trees that survived Hugo, a a very devastating tropical cyclone which, with winds of 270 km / h, devastated the property in 1989. The archipelago had, apparently, never experienced such a violent hurricane. Plaques also indicate here a tree survivor, elsewhere a tree trunk was kept as a testimony …
Continuing along the aisles, the atmosphere changes. More or less tropical, more or less colorful, all the scenes are seductive. All.
Of course, there are many aquatic settings: the peaceful waters of a huge lake of 1000 m2 colonized by water lilies, tumultuous with an incredible waterfall, capricious brook that fights a passage between the rocks, streaming waters of a amazing wall of water … All these scenes contribute to structure this garden, they bring an element of gaiety and seduction, a particularly welcome impression of freshness. However, as soon as we walk a short time, we are hot and we sweat a little. So, we are pleasantly surprised when we end up on a long tunnel of greenery. It is covered with a silver liana, argyria nervosa. When entering this tunnel, multiple foggers start. It comes out subjugated and refreshed. And then, we turn back and start again, as the experience was pleasant.
This magnificent 7-hectare botanical garden has a special history. Imagined by Michel Gaillard, a renowned landscape artist who has put on stage tropical vegetation and sometimes rare collections of plants, this garden is an old property of Coluche. We can see the garden villa, a little below, with its red roofs typical of the island architecture that stands out against the terribly blue sea below. It was built on the site of the former house of the humorist. A festival for the eyes, Guadeloupe!
*Go. Corsair offers daily flights to Pointe-à-Pitre, from 320 € return. Ability to take, via the Internet,
an option on a reservation, valid for six days, at the rate originally selected:
*Ask about. Tourist Office: lesilesdeguadeloupe.com
* Organize your stay. To contact the agency created by Taïna Tharsis: guadeloupe-
*Housing. Hotel Karibea Beach Resort, Gosier, karibeahotel.com
*To read. Guadeloupe. Guide The little smart, 528 p., 11,95 €. He just went out. It is teeming with information on history, culture, politics, tourism sites. Very useful pages entitled "Guadeloupe in 25 key words"!
And also, at Gallimard, a novelty, CARTO Guadeloupe. Very solid cardboard pages, a practical pocket size, more than useful maps and a wealth of information for those wishing to explore the archipelago. € 9.95.