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Many German publications speak of Madagascar, especially from the nineteenth century. Thus a German “polybistor” named Saamüller never set foot in the island. And although he was mainly interested in the Lepidoptera of Madagascar – from where the title of his book – he also addresses the flora (read previous Notes).
According to the situation of the region of the country, the vegetation is very different in the Great Island but generally very rich and abundant. At that time, the flora was only scarcely explored, especially after the sudden death, on 29 May 1881 in Antananarivo, of the traveler J.-M. Hildebrandt who stayed there mainly to study its flora.
Every visitor is immediately struck by the immense forest richness, especially by the belt of virgin forest all along the island, substantially parallel to the coast. It is located on the slopes of the Highlands, divided on the eastern side by an elongated valley crossed by a fairly large river (Mangoro), but reunited again at both ends of the Ankay plain. The forest encloses the latter, whose “magnificent panorama charm every traveler who leaves the virgin forest”.
The plain is mostly extended to the northeast. In the South and West, where the forest belt is narrower, it approaches the coast more and ends before reaching the most advanced point to the west. In the northwest, the belt extends beyond the first part by an important area. Inside and outside this belt there are larger patches of virgin forest to the east and northwest. In the southwest there is a large, less dense forest area with palm stands.
The Hauts-plateaux are not very wooded. Only a few groups of trees can be seen here and there on the hills, “whose exterior appearance resembles our European forest trees, but which generally belong to the family of fig trees”.
Indeed, on the summits reigns a flora corresponding to the temperate zone, while that of the plains and river valleys is totally tropical.
A large part of the Highlands is barren and uncultivated, and vast expanses of willows and swamps, the hills are generally covered with grass, which is, in the cold season, brown in color, and half dry. “It is burnt by the
Inhabitants before the beginning of the rainy season, exactly as in many African regions. “
The largest lush vegetation extends to the east. At the back of the burning sand of the shores, “the most magnificent meadows unfold in the plain, frequently intermingled with bushes, groups of trees and marshy areas.”
More sparse is the vegetation of the western part, especially in the South where in its sandy plains grows a great variety of thorny plants that belong to leguminous, cacti and euphorbiaceae.
Madagascar possesses a very varied flora, its plants mix the African and Indo-Malaysian forms.
“The impression produced by forests, the quantity of ferns, reminds India. Palm trees, acacias and ericaceae (of which the genus Philippa can be found in small bushes in the mountains at the edge of the virgin forest), the tree ferns recall Africa. Pandanus species, Casuarinaceae and Nepenthaceae (canned plants) whose presence is only isolated, recall the Malayan archipelago. “