Located in the south Pacific roughly 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand, Fiji is an archipelago made up of 332 islands. Among the most biologically diverse islands in the region, Fiji's volcanic terrain and moist, tropical climate provide ample resources for a wide variety of plants. Nearly a fourth of Fiji's 1,769 plant species are found nowhere else, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Unlike many islands in Oceania, Fiji has several well-developed forest ecosystems. Palms dominate the coastal areas and include species such as the fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), Fiji fan palm (Pritchardia pacifica) and coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). They survive in the poor, sandy soil along the beach and are a valuable food source for native Fijians. Casuarina pine (Casuarina equisetifolia), called nokonoko, is an evergreen species found throughout the southern hemisphere from South America to Australia. It is one of several coniferous species in Fiji. Screw pine (Pandanus utilis), called balawa in Fijian, is not a true pine but a relative of the palm-tree family. It is commonly seen along coastal slopes and riverbeds. Mangrove forests occupy more than 190 square miles in Fiji with three dominant species: red mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa), tiri wai (R. samoensis) and selala (R. selala). The majority of Fiji's mangrove ecosystem is found along coastal lagoons on the island of Viti Levu, although it can be found to a lesser extant on other islands in the chain.
Fiji is home to vast tracts of cloud and rain forest. Ferns dominate the understory of the forests, thriving in the cool, moist air and acidic soil of the forest floor. Babasanga (Acrostichum aureum) and boreti (A. aureum) are two varieties prized by the islanders for their medicinal and culinary values. Both are large and found in wet soil near brackish water. Sometimes grown as an ornamental, balabala (Polypodium lunulatum) is a native Fijian fern collected for use in cooking and as stuffing for pillows and mattresses. A large species sometimes reaching 6 feet in height, balabala is found in the understory of pine and hardwood forests throughout the islands.
Shrubs are found in virtually every ecosystem of Fiji and represent a wide variety of genera. Belebele (Brackenridgea nitida) is a large shrub or small tree known for its fragrant white flowers. Islanders consider the tree to be a spiritual totem, and it is widely revered. Caucau (Cestrus aurantium) is a small, slender shrub with a compact growth habit. It is found in dry forest areas and is generally associated with the presence of pine species. Known for the highly unpleasant odor of its flowers, boiboida (Geniostoma rupestre) is a small sub-shrub found on the main island of Viti Levu. The flowers of boiboida take on a different, more pleasant odor at night.
A wide variety of native and introduced flowering plants thrive in Fiji. Night-blooming island jasmine (Jasminum unifoliolatus), called beneviriviri in Fijian, is a climbing vine that bears white, star-shaped flowers. Considered to be a magical plant by islanders, it is grown near homes as a means of magical protection. Pinecone ginger (Zingiber zerumbet), better known as awapuhi, is a flowering plant named for the reddish-orange, cone-shaped flower heads that grace it in mid-summer. Beach morning glory (Ipomoea pescaprae), the most widespread flowering plant in Fiji, is a tender, climbing vine found everywhere along the coast. It is a wild plant that is also widely cultivated for its 2-inch-wide purplish-pink flowers and heart-shaped foliage. Additionally, there are more than 200 known species of orchid in Fiji, 50 of which are endemic. The most common varieties belong to the genus Dendrobium and include Dendrobium dactylodes and Dendrobium macropus.