Flora of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands

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North Keeling, a national park

The vascular plant flora of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands consists of approximately 61 species native to the 22 vegetated islands and about 69 introduced species, most of which are confined to the two larger inhabited islands, Home Island and West Island. There are no plant species endemic to the islands, however one variety of Pandanus tectorius is only found growing on these islands. The native vegetation of the two atolls primarily consists of sea-dispersed shoreline plants of the Indo-Pacific region. On the lagoon shoreline, tall shrublands are dominated by Pemphis acidula and Cordia subcordata, often growing in monospecific stands. Closed forest stands are dominted by either Cocos nucifera or Pisonia grandis.[1]

Much of the area of the southern islands has been modified for coconut plantations, altering the vegetation from the pre-settlement era. North Keeling, about 25 kilometres (16 mi) to the north, has been protected as part of the Pulu Keeling National Park, where 31 plants can be found, of which about six are introduced or naturalised. About half of the species on the southern atoll are introduced.[1][2]

In a report to Parks Australia in 2002, of the many introduced species on the southern atoll, Chromolaena odorata (Siam weed) was identified as being the greatest threat to the environment.[2] Most of the introduced species are pantropical herbaceous plants likely introduced to the southern atoll after the airfield was built in 1944.[1]


The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are isolated, being the only atolls in the eastern Indian Ocean, and were uninhabited until relatively recently in the early 19th century. The first botanical study was done while naturalist Charles Darwin visited the southern atoll for ten days, arriving April 1, 1836. Darwin collected 21 species during his time on the islands.[1]

In such a loose, dry, stony soil, nothing but the climate of the intertropical regions could produce a vigorous vegetation. Besides the Cocoa nut which is so numerous as at first to appear the only tree, there are five or six other kinds. One called the Cabbage tree, grows to a great bulk in proportion to its height, & has an irregular figure; its wood being very soft. Besides these trees the number of native plants is exceedingly limited; I suppose it does not exceed a dozen. Yet the woods, from the dead branches of the trees, & the arms of the Cocoa nuts is a thick jungle.

— Charles Darwin, HMS Beagle diary[3]

Later, the Scottish botanist Henry Ogg Forbes botanised the southern islands in 1879, collecting 38 species in 22 days, followed by W. E. Birch in 1885 and the British botanist Henry B. Guppy, who spent ten weeks in 1888 on both atolls. By far the longest visit by a naturalist was that of Frederic Wood Jones who spent 15 months on the southern atoll in 1909 and published his account in the book, Coral and Atolls. A History and Description of the Keeling-Cocos Islands, with an account of their Fauna and Flora, and a Discussion of the Method of Development and Transformation of Coral Structures in General, published in 1912. The northern atoll was visited in 1941 by the British naturalist Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill, who provided the first systematic assessment of the plant communities and a description of the dominant flora. The 1980s saw the two largest surveys in 1985 by I. R. Telford, who collected 93 species from both atolls, and in 1986-1987 by D. G. Williams, who collected 130 from all islands.[1]


Species Family Vernacular name Local name Status Image
Dicliptera ciliata Acanthaceae native
Sesuvium portulacastrum Aizoaceae sea purslane native Sesuvium p.jpg
Achyranthes aspera var. villosior Amaranthaceae chaff flower native Achyranthes aspera at Kadavoor.jpg
Aerva lanata Amaranthaceae introduced Aerva lanata in Bhongir AP W I2 IMG 3064.jpg
Crinum asiaticum Amaryllidaceae crinum lily native Crinum asiaticum (1).jpg
Zephyranthes rosea Amaryllidaceae introduced Zephyranthes rosea1MTFL.jpg
Ochrosia oppositifolia Apocynaceae Kayu Laki native
Cocos nucifera Arecaceae coconut Kelapa native Coconut green.JPG
Austroeupatorium inulaefolium Asteraceae stinkweed introduced
Chromolaena odorata Asteraceae Siam weed introduced Chromolaena odorata by Ashasathees.jpg
Cyanthillium cinereum Asteraceae introduced Cyanthillium cinereum - flower.JPG
Eleutheranthera ruderalis Asteraceae introduced
Emilia sonchifolia Asteraceae introduced Emilia sonchifolia 4.jpg
Erigeron bonariensis Asteraceae fleabane introduced Conyza bonariensis.jpg
Melanthera biflora Asteraceae beach sunflower native Wollastonia biflora.jpg
Sonchus oleraceus Asteraceae milk thistle introduced Sonchus February 2008-1.jpg
Synedrella nodiflora Asteraceae introduced Synedrella nodiflora.jpg
Tridax procumbens Asteraceae introduced Coat buttons (Tridax procumbens) in Hyderabad, AP W IMG 7087.jpg
Argusia argentea Boraginaceae octopus bush Kayu Sireh native Starr 010520-0073 Tournefortia argentea.jpg
Cordia subcordata Boraginaceae sea trumpet Geronggang native Cordia subcordata, seeds, flower, leaves.jpg
Lepidium virginicum Brassicaceae introduced Lepidium virginicum var pubescens 3.jpg
Caesalpinia bonduc Caesalpiniaceae nickernut Kelenchi native Caesalpinia bonduc inflo.jpg
Senna occidentalis Caesalpiniaceae introduced Senna occidentalis.jpg
Calophyllum inophyllum Calophyllaceae Alexandrian laurel Nyamplong native Starr 010309-0546 Calophyllum inophyllum.jpg
Hippobroma longiflora Campanulaceae introduced Hippobroma longiflora.jpg
Carica papaya Caricaceae pawpaw Katis introduced Carica papaya 005.JPG
Casuarina equisetifolia subsp. equisetifolia Casuarinaceae coastal sheoak Cemara native Casuarina equesitifolia tree.jpg
Cleome gynandra Cleomaceae native Cleome gynandra Blanco1.233-cropped.jpg
Terminalia catappa Combretaceae sea almond Ketapang native Terminalia catappa (fruit).jpg
Tradescantia spathacea Commelinaceae introduced Oyster Plant (Tradescantia spathecea) Vittata Mayflower Faminly (3073341052).jpg
Ipomoea violacea Convolvulaceae moon flower native Ipomoea macrantha.jpg
Ipomoea pes-caprae Convolvulaceae goat's-foot Kangkong Meryap native അടമ്പ് Ipomoea pes-caprae 02.jpg
Bryophyllum pinnatum Crassulaceae introduced Starr 070308-5336 Kalanchoe pinnata.jpg
Syringodium isoetifolium Cymodoceaceae sea grass native Syringodium isoetifolium ployant sous la houle.jpg
Thalassodendron ciliatum Cymodoceaceae sea grass native
Cyperus bulbosus Cyperaceae nut grass native
Cyperus javanicus Cyperaceae native Cyperus javanicus spikelet 1.jpg
Cyperus polystachyos Cyperaceae introduced Pycreus.jpg
Fimbristylis cymosa Cyperaceae native Starr 031108-0022 Fimbristylis cymosa.jpg
Queenslandiella hyalina Cyperaceae native
Acalypha indica Euphorbiaceae native Acalypha indica W IMG 4045.jpg
Acalypha lanceolata Euphorbiaceae native
Euphorbia atoto Euphorbiaceae native
Euphorbia cyathophora Euphorbiaceae dwarf poinsettia introduced Euphorbia cyathophora.jpg
Euphorbia hirta Euphorbiaceae introduced Starr 080604-5935 Chamaesyce hirta.jpg
Euphorbia prostrata Euphorbiaceae introduced Euphorbia prostrata.jpg
Ricinus communis Euphorbiaceae castor oil plant Pokok Jaru Jarak introduced Ricinus March 2010-1.jpg
Alysicarpus vaginalis Fabaceae introduced Starr 050419-0368 Alysicarpus vaginalis.jpg
Canavalia cathartica Fabaceae sea bean native Canavalia cathartica.jpg
Crotalaria retusa Fabaceae introduced 2013.10.31.150923 Rattlepod (Crotalaria retusa) Chain of Craters Road Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Hawaii.jpg
Desmodium triflorum Fabaceae introduced Desmodium triflorum at Kadavoor.jpg
Erythrina variegata Fabaceae coral tree Kayu Dedap native Flower I IMG 3974.jpg
Indigofera hirsuta Fabaceae introduced Hairy Indigo (Indigofera hirsuta) (6372953579).jpg
Leucaena leucocephala Fabaceae leucaena Peteh introduced Leucaena leucocephala.jpg
Macroptilium atropurpureum Fabaceae siratro introduced Macroptilium atropurpureum flowers.jpg
Sesbania cannabina Fabaceae introduced Sesbania cannabiana 001.jpg
Sesbania grandiflora Fabaceae Turi introduced அகத்திப்பூ.jpg
Vigna marina Fabaceae native Vigna marina (aka beach pea, nanea, notched cowpea) - 02.jpg
Enicostema axillare subsp. littorale Gentianaceae native
Scaevola taccada Goodeniaceae sea lettuce Kayu Kankong native Scaevola sericea (5187929027).jpg
Hernandia nymphaeifolia Hernandiaceae sea hearse Kayu Jambu Hutan native Hernandia nymphaeifolia.jpg
Thalassia hemprichii Hydrocharitaceae sea grass native
Clerodendrum indicum Lamiaceae introduced Starr 060810-8484 Clerodendrum indicum.jpg
Vitex trifolia Lamiaceae native Vitex trifolia.jpg
Volkameria inermis Lamiaceae sorcerer's flower native Volkameria inermis 08611.jpg
Cassytha filiformis Lauraceae devil's twine native Starr 010520-0082 Cassytha filiformis.jpg
Barringtonia asiatica Lecythidaceae box fruit Kayu Besagi native Barringtonia asiatica (flower).jpg
Pemphis acidula Lythraceae Kayu Keriting native Pemphis acidula bushes.jpg
Hibiscus tiliaceus Malvaceae cotton tree Pokok Waru native Starr 020803-0107 Hibiscus tiliaceus.jpg
Sida acuta Malvaceae introduced Sida acuta (Jangli-methi) in Hyderabad, AP W2 IMG 0084.jpg
Thespesia populnea Malvaceae portia tree Waru Hutan native Milo closeup.jpg
Triumfetta repens Malvaceae Bingit burr native
Muntingia calabura Muntingiaceae Buah Cheri introduced Singapur cherry (Muntingia calabura) in Hyderabad, AP W IMG 9597.jpg
Eugenia sp. Myrtaceae Jambu Ayer introduced
Psidium guajava Myrtaceae guava Jambu Biji introduced Psidium guajava flower 26032014 01.jpg
Boerhavia albiflora Nyctaginaceae introduced
Boerhavia diffusa Nyctaginaceae introduced Boerhavia diffusa in AP W IMG 8081.jpg
Boerhavia repens Nyctaginaceae native Starr 010520-0067 Boerhavia repens.jpg
Pisonia grandis Nyctaginaceae pisonia Ampol native Starr 990611-0869 Pisonia grandis.jpg
Ximenia americana Olacaceae yellow plum Rukam native Ximenia americana leaves & fruit at Chilkur near Hyderabad, AP W2 IMG 7288.jpg
Striga angustifolia Orobanchaceae introduced Striga angustifolia.jpg
Pandanus tectorius var. cocosensis Pandanaceae screw palm Pandan native
Passiflora foetida var. hispida Passifloraceae stinking passionflower introduced Passionfruit cream.jpg
Turnera ulmifolia Passifloraceae introduced YellowAlderKeyWest.JPG
Breynia disticha Phyllanthaceae introduced Starr 030612-0049 Breynia disticha.jpg
Phyllanthus amarus Phyllanthaceae native
Sauropus androgynus Phyllanthaceae Keretu introduced Sauropus androgynus at Kadavoor.jpg
Rivina humilis Phytolaccaceae coral berry introduced Rivina humilis (fruit).jpg
Scoparia dulcis Plantaginaceae introduced Kallurukki.jpg
Apluda mutica Poaceae introduced Apluda mutica W IMG 2917.jpg
Bothriochloa bladhii Poaceae introduced Bothriochloa bladhii seedhead.jpg
Brachiaria brizantha Poaceae introduced
Cenchrus ciliaris Poaceae introduced Cenchrus ciliaris.jpg
Cenchrus echinatus Poaceae sand burr introduced Starr 010520-0041 Cenchrus echinatus.jpg
Chloris barbata Poaceae introduced Starr 080611-8522 Chloris barbata.jpg
Chrysopogon aciculatus Poaceae introduced Kemucup.jpg
Cynodon dactylon Poaceae couch grass introduced Cynodon dactylon 2.jpg
Cynodon radiatus Poaceae introduced
Dactyloctenium aegyptium Poaceae introduced Dactyloctenium aegyptium, blomme, a, Pretoria.jpg
Desmostachya bipinnata Poaceae introduced
Digitaria setigera Poaceae introduced
Eleusine indica Poaceae crowsfoot grass introduced Eleusine indica, closeup.jpg
Eragrostis amabilis Poaceae introduced Starr 080604-6000 Eragrostis amabilis.jpg
Eriochloa meyeriana Poaceae introduced
Imperata cylindrica var. major Poaceae bladey grass introduced
Ischaemum muticum Poaceae introduced
Lepturopetium sp. aff. marshallense Poaceae native
Lepturus repens Poaceae stalky grass native Starr 080603-5593 Lepturus repens.jpg
Panicum repens Poaceae introduced Starr 050902-4373 Panicum repens.jpg
Paspalum vaginatum Poaceae native Starr 050418-0245 Paspalum vaginatum.jpg
Sporobolus fertilis Poaceae sand couch grass introduced Sporobolus fertilis nezuminoo.jpg
Stenotaphrum micranthum Poaceae beach buffalo grass native
Thuarea involuta Poaceae bird's-beak grass native Thuarea involuta kuroiwazasa01.jpg
Zoysia matrella Poaceae native Zoysia matrella at Peradeniya Botanical Garden.jpg
Unidentified sp. Poaceae introduced
Portulaca oleracea Portulacaceae pigweed native Portulaca oleracea.JPG
Rhizophora apiculata Rhizophoraceae spider mangrove native Thakafathi.JPG
Guettarda speciosa Rubiaceae Kembang Melati Hutan native Guettardia2.jpg
Morinda citrifolia Rubiaceae cheesefruit Mengkudu native Noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia).jpg
Oldenlandia corymbosa Rubiaceae introduced Mille Graines. Flattop (1001297322).jpg
Spermacoce remota Rubiaceae introduced Spermacoce remota 1.jpg
Triphasia trifolia Rutaceae Buah Kengkit introduced Triphasia trifoliata fruits.jpg
Allophylus cobbe Sapindaceae native Allophylus cobbe11.jpg
Dodonaea viscosa Sapindaceae hopbush native Dodonaea viscosa (Hopbush) W2 IMG 1899.jpg
Physalis minima Solanaceae Chepelok introduced Physalis minima fruit from Kerala - 20090520.jpg
Solanum americanum Solanaceae blackberry nightshade introduced Starr 010520-0074 Solanum americanum.jpg
Suriana maritima Surianaceae native Bay Cedar (1001511752).jpg
Laportea aestuans Urticaceae native
Phyla nodiflora Verbenaceae introduced Phyla nodiflora 3 (Corse).JPG
Premna serratifolia Verbenaceae native Premna serratifolia 13.JPG
Stachytarpheta jamaicensis Verbenaceae blue snakeweed introduced Stachytarpheta jamaicensis at Aanakkulam.jpg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Williams, D.G. 1994. Vegetation and flora of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin, 404: 1-29.
  2. ^ a b Claussen, J., and D. Slip. 2002. The status of exotic plants on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Indian Ocean. Parks Australia North, Department of the Environment. Accessed online: 13 May 2015.
  3. ^ Keynes, Richard. 2001. Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge University Press. pp. 414–415.

External links[edit]