Flora and Fauna
Hundreds of years of human occupation have totally transformed Rapa Nui’s flora and fauna; where native forests of toromiro (Sophora toromiro) and stands of palms once flourished, dense plantations of introduced eucalyptus now cover the slopes of Rano Kau crater. Grasses cover most of the hillsides.
Most remote oceanic islands are, of course, flora- and fauna-poor. Abundant when the first Polynesian settlers arrived, the sooty tern (Sterna fuscata) survives in reduced numbers on offshore islets. The first Polynesian immigrants brought their own domestic flora and fauna—crops such as the sweet potato and edible animals such as the chicken and Polynesian rat. Europeans brought both accidental and purposeful introductions—the Norway or brown rat that hitched a lift on oceanic voyages and the horses, cattle, and sheep that they brought as economic domesticates.
There is a good synopsis of Rapa Nui’s native and introduced flora and their uses—both horticultural and medicinal—in Conaf’s well-illustrated Vegetación de Rapa Nui: Historia y Uso Tradicional (1996), by Marcos Rauch, Patricia Ibáñez, and José Miguel Ramírez. Available from Conaf both here and in Santiago, it costs US$5.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition