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Discovering the Power of Ancestral Wisdom and Nature Connection

Thirty years ago, on the beautiful Reunion island, a homework assignment, sparked in Restoration Consultant Lauriane a lifelong connection with Nature and the Elders who cherish it, ultimately leading her to TreeSisters.

Below is her personal journey, starting on the verandas of Reunion, where wisdom is passed down through generations and traditional knowledge and respect for Nature create resilient landscapes and empowered communities.


Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert, Restoration Consultant, TreeSisters

I want to share a little about my connection with trees and Nature, based on my personal experience of the biocultural approach and bio-acculturation. This started over 30 years ago when my Natural and Earth Sciences teacher requested I create a herbarium with the local plants of Reunion Island, an Island in the Indian Ocean, to the East of Madagascar, where I am from.

Looking for plant materials, I connected with my aunt. She then connected me to the Elders, especially grandmothers, in the highlands of Reunion. As farming communities, away from the urban, bustling life of the lowlands and coast where I was raised, the people were very connected with their land back then.

We met on their “varangues”, the local names for the symbolic verandas of the Reunionese housing architecture. The “varangue” is a unique space between the interior of the house and Nature. It is a place of reconnection to the natural world and where families and friends come together after work, school or Sunday mass for herbal tea or a glass of homemade spiced rum with leaves, barks, and sticks collected from the garden or the forests. These varangues always face a magnificent Creole garden and have a spectacular view of the mountains or the Indian Ocean to frame this evocative setting. 

Scenic mountain view in Reunion ©Mouk.
Scenic mountain view in Reunion ©Mouk.

So here I was, aged 14 and going from one house to another, questioning and listening to grandmothers, surrounded by numerous flower pots and orchids hanging in homemade supports made from the bark of an endemic tree called the “fanjans”.  On their faces and in their gravelly voices, you could see and feel a strength and determination. Women who have resisted through seasons of cyclones and survived a patriarchal culture.

These women were all of different colours: some were white, some had tanned skin and blue eyes, and some had black skin and green or dark eyes. All were of mixed ethnicities, all proud of their origins. They were all descendants of people who had been uprooted from Europe, Asia, and Africa and transplanted to a new motherland, under the impetus and as part of imperialism, mercantilism and colonisation.

Through this work and my growing links with these women, I felt connected for the first time with the culture and language of my ancestors. I discovered their knowledge and wisdom, and they shared examples of traditional healing. I was in shock and filled with awe and admiration.

Endemic fern trees to Mascarenhas Archipelago (Mauritius, Reunion, Rodrigues), called “Fanjans” (Cyathea glauca / excelsia) © Lauriane Cayet. Threatened due to habitat destruction, exploitation for cultivation and as substratum or growing medium for orchids and other plants.

Gradually, I became aware that wisdom and deep change only come through connection, the bond forged with the transmission of knowledge. This bond goes far beyond what a botany text or a documentary could tell us. 

From these discussions, I learned that the trees and women living in the highlands are interlinked and both essential to life: these women held the knowledge and techniques to heal, to feed, and take care of babies and children. They did this with herbal teas or salves made from the trees and plants of their gardens and nearby forests. These Elders are like recipe books transmitted orally through generations. They know how to plant, propagate and care for plants and trees. They know how to beautify their varangues and lands to create beautiful Creole gardens.

The plant leaves and seeds for my herbarium helped me connect for the first time with the Creole or local names of trees and plants. I was introduced to their meanings, allowing me to time travel in the history of my culture. The local names of the trees and plants describe their utility and tell a piece of history. For example, to make up for the lack of a high-quality construction wood of “bois de fer” meaning “iron tree”, very resistant under very humid tropical climates, fraudulent timber sellers would substitute it with timber from another tree of lower quality, hence its nickname “bois du judas”, meaning the “judas tree”. 

Seedling of “bois de juda” meaning Judas tree (Cossinia pinnata Commerson) © Mouk’ A medicinal tree endemic to Reunion, that cures asthma.  In order to make up for the lack of a high quality wood of “bois de fer” used in construction in the old days, fraudulent timber sellers would substitute it with lower quality “bois du judas”, hence his nickname.

I became aware of the emotional, spiritual and religious dimensions of Nature. The human connection to Nature is more than, say, a terpene bath or the purification of the air to soothe one’s spirits. There is so much more to the intimate and singular connection that humans have with the forests and territories they inhabit that strengthen social cohesion.


At one point, I realised that if our forests were to disappear one day, an entire biocultural heritage would disappear along with them. Biocultural heritage encompasses not only a whole culture with a unique identity, a whole part of history, with its unique stories, rituals, sacred teachings, and languages but also the fauna and flora in which that culture evolved in reciprocal relationships, all of which could disappear from our collective memory. I became suddenly aware that culture strengthens Nature and vice versa, and that biocultural diversity roots people to where they are from.


Planting without regard for this biocultural heritage and traditional protocols and practices becomes irrational. Planting exotic species without links to a cultural heritage, without a vision of social and biocultural cohesion which includes the culinary traditions of a territory, and their relation to nutrition is detrimental to the integrity of local communities.

For me, planting non-native plants and trees is not only a threat to the endemic biodiversity of vulnerable island ecosystems, but an insidious invasion, a silent removal of a rich history of natural and cultural interdependence.

Therefore, it is important to favour planting local species, especially rare ones. Even if the fruits of these trees are not directly used by humans, they are useful to animals, and animals are useful for seed dispersal, and natural regeneration. They are also beneficial for our historical and cultural heritage - that makes us who we are as Earth’s peoples.

However, it is important to recognise that a decision to plant local species is often opposed by overly interventionist mainstream systems such as national green energy transition programmes. These systems may interfere with our duty, ability, or efforts to take care of ourselves or in our relationships with Nature.

Creole garden of the rural highlands © Mouk’

When we lose our connection with Nature, with biocultural diversity, we lose who we are, what we want, and what we need. We no longer know how to position ourselves and confront destructive ideas, and ultimately we forget how to live differently. We lose our critical thinking and free will, and we no longer see the mechanisms of subjugation. It is a little bit like the exotic species invasion effect: we forget what existed before…

This is why I work for TreeSisters: to restore trees and landscapes using ethical practices. We ensure that biocultural diversity, social justice, women's empowerment, and community are at the heart of our restoration partnerships and that Nature, in all her wisdom, is rooted in everything we do.

You can support this work and learn more about our projects and our approach to restoration which is rooted in ethics on our website.


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