Elise et les iles de la Polynésie

On the path to the TIARE APETAHI

There is a flower very rare and very beautiful which grows on only one island of The French Polynesia Islands: Raiatea. This flower’s name is TIARE APETAHI. Here is its story…

True treasure of the French Polynesia Islands’ flora, and emblematic plant species of the island of Raiatea, the TIARE APETAHI, Apetahia raiateensis is its scientific name, is an exceptional plant in many respects.

Exceptional, first, because of the shape of its flowers, with the five pristine white petals that open all to the same side. This unusual specificity which evokes a small open hand, has largely inspired the Polynesian mythology which gives a human origin to this delicate flower. Exceptional also is this flower because of its own way to bloom at dawn producing a strange sound  « pop… pop… » (although this phenomenon is not scientifically proven yet!!!).

But although the TIARE APETAHI is a unique species in the World, it is above all because it grows only in Raiatea, on the plateaus located on the North of the Island. These sites which are more than 300 hectares wide, have geological and climatic conditions very specific which favor the development of a extremely unique vegetation.

Among the 200 species identified by the botanists, there are not less than 28 endemic plants from these plateaus, among which there is the famous TIARE APETAHI, 18 other endemic plants from Raiatea, 44 endemic plants from the Society archipelago and 144 indigenous plants from the French Polynesia.

Unfortunately, these hotspots of the Polynesian biodiversity are the places where there are all kinds of damages due to a natural or human origin: these plants are choked by other invasive plants, are devoured by the rats, are trampled by the wild pigs, and are picked by the walkers… the endemic plants of the plateaus of Raiatea, TIARE APETAHI in first, are today seriously endangered.

The legend of the TIARE APETAHI

There are many stories and legends about the origin of the TIARE APETAHI. One of them began in a “fare” (house) in Raiatea where lived Apetahi and her husband. One day, after a terrible argument, the “tane” (« husband », « man » in Polynesian), fisherman, had to set out to sea and leave his “vahine” (« woman », « bride » in Polynesian) alone home. The woman, who was grief-stricken, decided to walk to the summit of the Te-Mehani Mount, to kill herself. Before killing herself, Apetahi cut one of her arms and burried it with the palm towards the sky. In this place, some time later, grew a shrub with a five-petal flower which reminded strikingly the shape of a hand open to the sky…. Informed by the walkers who discovered the strange plant, the husband of Apetahi understood the desperate act of his dead wife. For her memory, he tried many times to plant a branch of the shrub in front of his fare, but vainly.

Today still, all the tries of cuttings of the TIARE APETAHI are vain…

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