Hosting a huge number of seabirds, it is inevitable that the air of Bird Island sometimes carries the whiff of bird guano, of which tonnes are deposited annually by the breeding hordes. This guano is, however, the source of the island’s fertility, without which little would grow.
Two of the plant species that thrive on the island, however, fill the air with heady perfumes that are more palatable to the human senses. Both species are indigenous to Seychelles and one is most likely indigenous to Bird Island, having survived the agricultural traumas inflicted upon it during the first half of the 20th century.
Takamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum) is a tree, sometimes large, that occurs throughout Seychelles but especially at lower altitudes near the coast. It has dark green glossy, leathery leaves and its timber is much valued for furniture, building and boat construction. While it is possible that some of the tree’s fruits, which float, have made their own way to Bird Island by being carried on the sea, most of the present trees were planted as part of a landscaping programme during the hotel’s development. At present the trees are in bloom, sporting clumps of white flowers, the centres of which have showy yellow stamens. The flowers exude a pleasant scent that persists throughout the day.
The other tree, Bwakasan bor-d-mer (Guettarda speciosa), is more nocturnal in its contribution of perfume to the island’s atmosphere. While often a large bush, in places it can grow into large trees, as along the coastal footpath to the Sooty Tern colony. Its leaves have conspicuous pale veins. This is a coastal tree, inhabiting the sandy beach crest of islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans, where its fruits are distributed by the sea. During daytime clumps of small flowers, tubular with swollen pinkish heads, are present. At night the swollen heads open into a corolla of white petals and it is at this time that the flowers give off their sweet and very strong perfume. In the morning, however, the flowers fall off and can carpet the ground below. The pungent perfume continues to fill the air, however, and early morning walks into the Sooty Tern colony are a joy to the nostrils!