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New Caledonia Travel Guide

Araucaria columnaris
Araucaria columnaris
on the Kuta Peninsula, Isle of Pines.

Flora

New Caledonia's vegetation has more in common with Australia's than it does with that of its closer tropical neighbor, Vanuatu. Seventy-five percent of the 3,250 botanic species are endemic. There are extensive areas of mangrove swamp and savanna grassland along the west coast. The only sizable forests are in the mountains.

The territory's most distinctive tree is a pine known as the Araucaria columnaris, which towers 30-45 meters high, with branches only two meters long. It's common along the more forested east coast and in the south, standing on low hills along the rockier shorelines and on the offshore islands. Often confused with the better-known Norfolk pine or Araucaria excelsa, the Araucaria columnaris or "candelabra" pine has a cylindrical profile whereas the Norfolk pine is conical. They're the most prominent floral features of these neighboring islands when viewed from the sea, and European mariners from Captain Cook onwards have been suitably impressed.

The most characteristic tree of the savannas of northern and western of Grande Terre is the niaouli, a relative of the eucalyptus. This tree has a white, almost completely fireproof bark, which peels off in papery layers and is used as an excellent medicinal oil, somewhat like eucalyptus oil. Through its ability to survive bush fires, the niaouli plays an important environmental role in this mountainous country by maintaining the continuity of the vegetation.