G'day folks, this ones probably repeating earlier information but I wrote an article for a newsletter back home and in my current slackness will rehash and post as an update with some new pics too.
Aside from the natural disasters and impending Malaria, it is not a bad life over here and my students are among some of the best I have taught. To paint a picture, there are similarities to South Africa in the lack of OH'S and mechanisation, not to mention the general craziness but the islands have uniqueness and pace found nowhere else. My nursery too is unique, in that it is the country's only ornamental production nursery. We sell plants, flower arrangements and landscape supplies, as well as supply garden designs, installation and maintenance. We also sell media, which is usually a mix of hand sieved coconut coir (husks raided from nearby plantations), pig manure, chipped Delonix, organic waste from the local brewery and river sand, all processed by hand. I guess we are kind of the one stop horticultural shop for the Solomon's.
The nursery staff double as the city's parks and gardens staff, usually working at night to avoid the heat. Then there are my students, who come from all walks of Solomon's life, from rural villages with little to no literacy, to college graduates struggling in the regions high unemployment, their ages ranging from thirteen to late fifties. Ten or twenty jump in the tray of my truck each morning and we head to class to meet the ten or twenty arriving in our second truck, so there is no shortage of challenges in getting everything to align but somehow the chaos just works.
From a research point of view and botanically speaking, the region is a goldmine. Inhabited areas are full of various Helliconia, Hibiscus and Codiaeum as you might expect and things get pristine quickly outside of Honiara. Leaving the city on the main drag, it isn't long before the beaches become lined with Cocos and coastal Ipomea species. On foot you are dwarfed by towering Sago Palms (Metroxylon sagu) and 6ft grasses but it is when looking beyond these outlandish dominant species, that the regions true treasures present. Among the blades of grass, terrestrial orchids of brown, pink and white are common but their numbers pale in comparison to the orchid species in the forest canopy above. Up there, in company, epiphytic Ficus, unusual bromeliads and mosses can be seen among trailing Epipremnum, all vying for a place in the sun.
It was scenes like this that sparked my latest and probably one of SEB's more ambitious schemes that might hit the spot for some of you back home. Over the next year or so we are planning a range of plant collection expeditions to some of the Solomon's 992 islands in the hope of commercialising and exhibiting some of the regions local offerings among the introduced ornamentals currently used in the countries capital. We started in rural Guadalcanal and have since journeyed to the remote and tiny island of Bellona with fantastic results but the project is still in its infancy. Identification of such plants is laborious, so if there are any specialists among you, open to taking a look at some of our troublesome species, please feel free to forward your contact details. But then there is always a chance there's something new to be found…