Oceania Plant Geography

The small, low coral islands have a species-poor flora with screw palms, coconut palms and other widespread species. On larger coral islands and especially on high islands of volcanic origin, such as Hawaii, Fiji and New Caledonia, the species richness is large, and endemic species make up 70-90% of the original flora. Species in the banana and palm families are prominent, as are fig species and tree ferns; the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus) is native to the area.

The latest estimates of the number of plant species for the islands in the Pacific Ocean are approximately 10,700 species. The largest and most peculiar floras occur in Hawaii (about 1000 species), Fiji (about 1500 species) and New Caledonia (about 3200 species). According to countryaah, new estimates for Australia and New Zealand together include approximately 25,700 species, and the total number for Oceania is estimated to be approximately 35,000 species.

New Caledonia has a very distinctive flora with endemic conifers. The supposedly very primitive family Degeneriaceae (with a single species, Degeneria vitiensis) is endemic to the Fiji Islands. Hawaii’s flora contains both an American and a Malaysian element, and there has been a significant species formation on the archipelago itself. Typical of many species developed on oceanic islands are large fruits and seeds and thus a reduced dispersal ability.


Pitcairn, small island in the South Pacific 2000 km SE of Tahiti, British territory; 4.5 km2. The 52 residents (2004) constitute one of the world’s most isolated communities. The island is of volcanic origin and has steep shores. The climate is tropical and windy; the vegetation is characterized by coconut palms and conifers. The residents all live in Adamstown on the north coast and subsist mainly on self-sufficient agriculture. Export revenues come mainly from the island’s stamp and coin issues. Pitcairn is usually visited by fewer than ten ships a year.

The archipelago also includes the small islands of Ducie and Oeno in addition to Henderson Island, which with a unique nature has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There were traces of a former Polynesian settlement when nine of the mutineers on Bounty along with 19 Polynesians in 1790 settled on Pitcairn. The mutineer colony was found in 1808 by an American ship. In 1856 the island’s 194 residents were moved to Norfolk Island, but six families returned home after a few years and thus became the ancestors of a large part of the now living residents of this the last British territory in the Pacific.

Easter Island

Easter Island, Isla de Pasqua, Polynesian Rapa Nui, small island of volcanic origin in the eastern Pacific, belongs to Chile; 171 km2, 5761 residents (2012). Easter Island forms one of the corners of the Polynesian Triangle and is one of the world’s most remote communities. Until World War II, the island was completely characterized by self-sufficient agriculture and the strong isolation. Since the discovery of the many stone statues, Easter Island and its cultural history have been the subject of thorough research, and it has inspired numerous reports, books and films.

From the 1990’s, Easter Island has been completely dominated by the tourist industry. Transportation to and from the island remains costly, as does all living costs, but the small community receives over 20,000 visitors annually. The island is a national park and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Easter Island. These three characters come from one of the few deciphered inscriptions. The first sign represents a bird with an open hand on one wing. Grasping with the hand is called ma’u, but the almost identical word mau indicates plural; the sign therefore means ‘the birds’. The erect penis th. on the sign means that the birds have intercourse with someone, namely the next signs of fish and sun. The translation is therefore ‘The birds had intercourse with the fish and diverted the Sun’.

On Easter Island, the Polynesian language rapanui, which belongs to the oceanic language group, is spoken. It is spoken by approximately 3400, of which 2/3 live on Easter Island and the other in Tahiti and Chile. Rapanui, which due to the island’s isolated location has many distinctive features in grammar and vocabulary, is the only Polynesian language that has developed its own writing system, rongorongo; this is not fully deciphered, but probably inspired by European writing systems.


Easter Island was probably populated from other islands in the Eastern Polynesian area approximately 300-500 AD The people carved giant statues of volcanic tuff and had them erected, perhaps in honor of deceased ancestors. Most statues, however, were toppled during internal battles on the island from around 1680.

When the first Europeans called at the island on Easter day 1722, there were approximately 4,000 residents, but by 1870 the number had dropped to 111 due to hard labor, slaveraids, and the spread of epidemic diseases. In 1888 Chile annexed the island, and since 1965 its residents have had Chilean citizenship. Many have emigrated to the mainland, and there is a growing demand for easing of paternalistic Chilean rule.

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