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Seychelles: the Vallee de Mai

Deep in the highlands of Praslin Island in the Seychelles lies the Vallée de Mai, origin and sole source of the legendary Coco de Mer nut (Lodoicea maldivica). At nearly 40 pounds it is the world's largest seed, and the subject of centuries of rumors, superstitions, and mysteries due solely to its evocative shape, that of a woman's midsection, front and back.

Lyn Mair and Lynnath Beckley offer a fascinating overview of the Coco de Mer's unique botany, and a hilarious account of the long-mysterious nut's myriad fables and legends. The British explorer General Charles Gordon in particular got it spectacularly wrong, elaborating detailed theories of how the Seychelles were a remnant of the original Garden of Eden. As I've written elsewhere, hardly anyone can describe the Seychelles without resorting to mentions of Paradise, so perhaps the old coot can be forgiven for his exuberance over finding such an unequivocably suggestive fruit.

I enjoyed the Valley for another reason: it is as close as you can hope to come to a glimpse of the Precambrian geological era. The Coco de Mer tree has a remarkable, prehistoric look to it anyway, with immense, clattering palm fronds perched on stalky, concave stems designed to funnel rainwater down to the plant's roots. But this delightful little forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the way) was an evocative walk through prehistory: ferns, oversized flora, babbling streams running thrugh gargantuan boulders strewn along the valley floor, and dark, mysterious bird life in the tree tops.

Naturally, the Seychellois had done a fantastic job of preserving and presenting the site. We were charged an entry fee whose revenues also support the conservation of the incomparable Aldabra Atoll through the homegrown Seychelles Islands Foundation, a commendable grassroots effort to protect a truly unique part of our natural heritage.


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