A thatched boulder

November 26, 2016

Winika, as it is most commonly known, is one of our most beautiful orchids – a fact that is unsurprising when one considers that it is the sole New Zealand representative of a particularly showy genus of orchids, Dendrobium. The strangest example that I have seen of this mostly epiphytic orchid is on the coastline east of Wellington, where a sheet of Dendrobium (syn. Winika) cunninghamii forms a thatch on top of an enormous boulder, which from a distance (and to a northerner’s eye) looks like a springy mat of kikuyu grass.

I was able to observe this patch of Winika last weekend whilst walking around Turakirae Head with two Wellington-based friends from the world of plant conservation, Rewi Elliott and Matt Ward. The stretch of coastline through which we walked has been formed over a long period of time as terraces have been consecutively raised up by large earthquakes (a process that has recently been actively demonstrated in association with the earthquake that badly shook Kaikoura a fortnight ago).

Climbing on to the boulder was an adventurous undertaking (only surpassed by the challenge of getting back down again with all limbs intact), and upon ascending it, we found Winika enthusiastically flowering. The build-up of rhizomes attested to the considerable age of the plants, which must have been on the rock for many decades.

On the way in to Turakirae Head, we looked at the type population of the Wellington endemic, Pimelea cryptica, growing on solid greywacke banks at the Orongorongo River (pictured below). It was especially gratifying to view this species at the type locality, due to the fact that knowing one’s Pimelea spp. has become a much more complicated affair in recent years (and therefore observing the specimens that are considered most representative decreases such confusion).

The main plant that I wanted to see at Turakirae Head was the Cook Strait kowhai, which I had never hitherto viewed in wild populations. Sophora molloyi is a popular plant within cultivation (in which it is commonly sold as Sophora ‘Dragon’s Gold’), due to its compact habit and very long flowering period (longer than all other kowhai).

As we approached the end of our time searching for S. molloyi amongst the countless outcrops and boulders that dot the landscape in this area, Matt called us over to a particularly large outcrop – where a handful of Cook Strait kowhai emerge from crevices within the extremely hard rock faces.