|The Louisiade Archipelago is situated in the extreme
southeast part of Papua New Guinea, almost midway between the mainland and
the Solomon Islands. The nearest significant landmasses are Woodlark Island,
about 200 km to the north, the mainland, a similar distance to the west, and
the Solomon Islands some 400 km to the east. The archipelago comprises three
large islands – Misima, Sudest and Rossel – and myriad islets and coral
cays. Of the main islands, Sudest (also known as Tagula) is the largest,
about 60 km long by 20 km at the widest point; the smallest is Rossel, at 30
km long and 12 km wide while Misima is somewhat intermediate at about 40 km
long by 10 km wide. Misima is the most populated, with about 14000
inhabitants and is also the site of one of Papua New Guinea’s largest gold
and silver mines, though mining operations have recently ceased. Although
small aircraft regularly service Misima, the other islands can only be
visited by boat.
Apart from the ubiquitous coconut (Cocos nucifera), betel-nut (Areca
catechu) and sago (Metroxylon sagu), the palms currently
recognized for the Louisiade Archipelago are not numerous (Table 1). Per
land area, this makes the region one of the most palm-poor areas in Papua
New Guinea. Genera, such a Gulubia, Rhopaloblaste, Orania, Cyrtostachys
and Licuala, which are commonly encountered throughout most of
lowland New Guinea, are otherwise absent. However, there appears to be a
number of undescribed species, as well as some species that have been
described from elsewhere but have so far not been formally recorded from the
One possible cause of this apparent paucity is that the islands have been
visited infrequently by palm botanists or specialist palm collectors. Among
the first to make palm collections was William MacGregor in 1888. MacGregor
was the Administrator of the British Crown Colony of New Guinea, and apart
from being an administrator and legislator, he encouraged and undertook
botanical collecting in many remote parts of Papua New Guinea (Thomson 1889,
van Steenis- Kruseman 1950). We are aware of no further palm collections
being made until Leonard Brass collected for the 1956 Archbold Expedition.
Brass (1959) visited Sudest where he ascended Mt Riu and recorded: “…a
scattered emergent, pinnate palm recalled those of mountain tops in the
D’Entrecasteaux Group.” At Rambusa, he reported: “…as elsewhere on Sudest,
palms were poorly represented.” On Rossel Island he reported: “…most of the
shoreline consisted of gray sand beaches, mangroves and nipa palms (Nypa
fruticans).” Upon ascending Mt Rossel, he wrote: “...the uppermost leaf
tips of two species of pinnate palms commonly came to about the level of the
highest surrounding trees,” and “…below the ridge crest…an abundance of a
stout Calyptrocalyx as a substage palm.” Brass’s collections from the
Louisiades were subsequently studied by Moore (1969) and Essig (1978), both
of whom described new species using Brass’s specimens as types (Table 1).
One of the more interesting of Brass’s collections from the archipelago was
Livistona woodfordii, which he collected as simply Livistonia (sic),
but this was subsequently determined as Livistona beccariana by H. E.
Moore in 1967.
In 1972, Fred Essig and Heinar Streimann visited Misima where they
collected “…Caryota rumphiana, a Calyptrocalyx sp. and an
unidentified Heterospathe…” (Essig & Young 1981). They were
unable to visit Sudest and Rossel at that time. In 1978, Essig returned to
Milne Bay Province with Bradford Young. Once again an attempt was made to
visit Sudest and Rossel, but the lack of transport forced them to reconsider
and subsequently to undertake some trips into the interior of the mainland
portion of the province (Essig & Young, 1981).
The only other collection from the Louisiades, of which we are aware, is
that by A. Gillison, who collected for the PNG Forestry Department in the
late 1960s. The collection, Ptychosperma ramosissimum (Gillison
25399), was deposited in the herbarium of the PNG Forest Research Institute,
The Louisiades Expedition, 2001
In May 2001, the authors visited the Louisiades as part of general palm
collecting activities related to a revision of Livistona (by JLD) and
the collaborative Palms of New Guinea (PONG) Project (JLD and RB). The PONG
project involves botanists from many different institutions and facilities.
After a few months of planning, the expedition began with the authors
meeting in Port Moresby on 22 May 2001 where some final preparations were
made with regard to forestry protocols and supplies. We flew to Misima on 24
May, where we were the guests of Misima Mining Limited who provided
accommodation in the mining camp complex and local land transport. At
Bwagaoia, the administrative center for the Archipelago, we met with boat
owner, Luke Moimoi, with whom we planned our itinerary and made arrangements
for accommodation and supplies.
Rossel and Sudest Islands do not have airline connections, so the only
way to reach them is by boat. Sudest lies some 80 km to the south-east and
Rossel lies some 140 km east-south-east of Misima, of which much is open
ocean and the remainder a maze of reefs and lagoons. As May is within a
transition period between the milder wet season conditions and the
south-east trades dominated dry season, it was expected that ocean travel
would be relatively comfortable (severe weather can sometimes be experienced
in the area). Our vessel was what is known locally as a ‘banana boat’–a five
meter long fiber-glass dinghy powered by a 40 horse-power outboard motor.
The boat is open to the elements, and because of its shallow draft and
upturned bow is reputed to handle roughish ocean conditions better than
vessels with a deeper draft.
With this in mind, we set sail for Sudest Island at first light on the
morning of 25 May. Although encountering some buffeting from the
strengthening southeast trades, the leg to Sudest was without incident. In
the open ocean sections, dolphins leaped about the bow, flying fish glided
past within arms reach and the occasional turtle surfaced nearby for air.
Upon leaving Misima, the destination islands were not in view, and it was
only after a few hours travelling that they appeared as specks hovering on
the horizon. Gradually they enlarged until one could eventually make out the
shapes of trees and other forms.
Our main destination for that day was Rossel Island. However, to take
advantage of the smoother waters of lagoons and other areas protected by
barrier reefs, the route takes in a swing through the complex of islands
north of Sudest and also a small section of the northwest coast of Sudest.
Upon passing Sudest, a small section of open ocean is crossed until the
relative tranquillity of the Rossel Lagoon is reached. However, the passage
into the lagoon, being very narrow, is easily missed, and our path
unfortunately lay on the ‘ocean’ side of the reef, providing a rough trip
through a two meter swell and very strong headwinds. We arrived at Rossel
Island in mid afternoon, wet, salt encrusted but otherwise relieved to be on
solid ground again.
Upon arrival, we arranged accommodation with the local District Officer.
With formalities completed, we organized our task, and were informed that
the palms that we wanted to collect were indeed within an easy walk of a
kilometre or so. Accompanied by a number of ‘assistants’, we proceeded along
a bush track until a group of Livistonas came into view. A short
scramble up a steep 50 m slope and we were standing beneath a group of
elegant fan palms, bearing infructescences with immature fruit (Fig. 1). The
local villagers informed us that the fruit turned orange-red at maturity,
usually in the months July–August. We identified the species as Livistona
woodfordii. With collection of this palm our work in the Louisiades had
The remaining daylight allowed us to prepare and press the specimens. The
following morning saw an early start to visit some other parts of the island
reported to have populations of the Livistona. Within the calm waters
of Rossel Lagoon, we made our way to the northwestern side, where the
Livistona appeared in the coastal forest (Fig. 2). Accompanying this was
a small solitary stemmed palm, which we identified as Ptychosperma
ramosissimum (Fig. 3). Collections were made at this location, and we
continued on toward Sudest Island, the second destination some 30 km away in
a direct line, but over twice that distance once the reefs and other
obstacles are circumvented.
We arrived at Rambuso in the early afternoon, and made inquiries
regarding the distribution of palms. Two possibilities were discussed – a
long walk inland to see a few forest palms, most likely Ptychosperma
or Hydriastele based on the descriptions given by local villagers, or
to continue by boat in a southeasterly direction where populations of
Livistona were known to occur. At this point, the general subject of
palms was discussed and a local villager demonstrated to us a fishing spear
that had been made from the stem of the Livistona (Fig. 4).
Reputedly, such spears are light-weight, strong and have a long life
compared to spears made from other materials.
After a further two hours gliding through the rather calm waters of the
lagoon, we turned yet another point and viewed what we considered to be one
of the most magnificent palm vistas in Papua New Guinea. From about 30 km
northwest of the most eastern point of Sudest, known as East Point, a stand
of Livistonas stretched through the coastal forests to the southern coast of
the island. The population is more or less continuous for 30–40 km.
Upon reaching East Point in the late afternoon, accommodation was
arranged within the local village. The specimens collected earlier that day
on Rossel were prepared and pressed. The house in which we stayed was almost
completely made from palm materials. The roof was thatched with
Metroxylon, and floors and some walls were made from the split stems of
Hydriastele and Ptychosperma.
The following morning we undertook a trip into the Livistona
forest some three kilometers north of the village. A passage was negotiated
between the mangroves and a landing place near to the coast was reached. A
short walk through mud and the tangle of Rhizophora branches and
aerial roots brought us to a rocky shore. Here the Livistonas were
immediately dominant, with the undergrowth a carpet of seedlings and
juveniles. The climb up a steep slope brought us to a ridge about 70 m in
altitude. On the adjacent slopes we encountered what appeared to be an
undescribed Ptychosperma (Fig. 5), an undetermined but probably
described Hydriastele (Fig. 6), and the climax of the Livistona
forest. We chose specimens of each palm to collect, and completed the
task in a few hours. By early afternoon, we were back at East Point, and in
a forest inland from there collected a specimen of a solitary-stemmed
cirrate Calamus distinguished by a spineless knee, and since
determined as C. hollrungii (W.J. Baker, pers. comm.).
At mid afternoon we prepared the dinghy for the return trip to Misima.
The breezes were rapidly freshening, and it was on the sector between Sudest
and Misima that we encountered rather rough seas with a swell to three
meters and a strong current. It is at such moments that the fragility of
life is contemplated, and the limit of one’s own mortality seriously
considered. The gold mine on Misima is a dominant landmark – by day a huge
scar on the side of one of the island’s highest mountains and by night a
blaze of lights. It was by this beacon that we reached our destination at
Bwagaoia in the early evening darkness, albeit a bit dazed and bruised from
the roughness of the final few hours of the trip. Once safely upon land, we
organized our accommodation at the mining camp complex, and enjoyed an
evening of stillness, although when our heads hit the pillows the heave of
the ocean swell was relived. We estimated that we had traveled almost 600 km
in our trusty dinghy over a period of three days. Whether that was some kind
of record we were not sure, but it certainly felt like a marathon effort to
The following day, being a Sunday, was a day of rest and recuperation.
However the next day we were once again in action. This included a climb up
Mt. Sisa to an altitude of about 400 meters. Palms were rather rare; we
encountered only an occasional Caryota rumphiana and the same
Hydriastele that we saw on Sudest. We collected the latter, as very few
palm collections have been made on Misima. Our guides related that other
species also occurred on the island, a putative Ptychosperma
according to their description or perhaps Essig and Young’s Heterospathe
or Calyptrocalyx, but these palms were in the deep interior of
the island and only accessible after a full day’s walk.
Upon preparing and pressing the newly collected specimens, and packing
the collections for the flight to Lae herbarium, we planned our departure
from the Louisiades for the next day, 29 May. We had certainly achieved most
of our objectives but further collections of those species, which we did not
find, would have to wait for another time.
We would like to thank Misima Mines Limited for providing accommodation,
air transport from the island and other logistical support while on Misima.
Luke Moimoi is thanked for safely delivering us to our chosen destinations
in his trusty dinghy, and arranging accommodation on Sudest Island. Jim Silu,
of Forestry Department, Alotau, is thanked for arranging contacts with
people on Misima. Funding for the expedition was provided by the Pacific
Biological Foundation as part of a grant to JLD.
BRASS, L. J. 1959. Results of the Archbold Expeditions. No. 79. Summary
of the fifth Archbold Expedition to New Guinea (1956–1957). Bull. Amer. Mus.
Nat. Hist. 118: 1–70.
ESSIG, F. B. 1978. A revision of the genus Ptychosperma Labill. (Arecaceae)
Allertonia 1: 415–478.
ESSIG, F. B. AND B. E. YOUNG. 1981. Palm collecting in Papua New Guinea.
III. Papua. Principes 25: 16–28.
MOORE, H. E. JR. 1969. New palms from the Pacific, III. Principes 13:
THOMSON, B. H. 1889. New Guinea: narrative of an exploring expedition to
the Louisiade and D’Entrecasteaux Islands. Proc. Roy. Geogr. Soc. Lond. new
series 11: 524–542.
VAN STEENIS-KRUSEMAN, M. J. (1950). Malaysian plant collectors and
collections. Fl. Males. 1: 3–639.