At the Temple

April 27, 2013

With its smoky, bronze juvenile foliage and idiosyncratic growth form, Pittosporum patulum is a botanical enigma that keeps drawing me back to this beautiful area of forest and scrub. My last trip up the South Branch of Temple Stream was with my friend, James Fraser; an innovative landscape designer who is London’s most fervent lancewood aficionado.

James’ love for lancewoods made it mandatory that I take him to see this peculiar, heteroblastic species of Pittosporum – which exhibits remarkable similarities with Pseudopanax crassifolius and P. ferox.

The images below show the unusual, toothed juvenile stage (in the young plant on the left), as well as the distinctive, upright growth form (the specimen on the right is on the turn towards its adult form). Each time that I have returned to South Temple, I have found more plants of Pittosporum patulum; and on the last visit (with James), we located around 30 plants over a wide age range, on a steep section of scrub.

Being extremely careful not to disturb any plants as we moved through the almost impenetrable scrub, it was apparent how this palatable, nationally endangered small tree is able to succeed in this location. It would be impossible for larger mammals (notably deer) to push through the scrub (which is extremely steep and criss-crossed by trunks), whilst smaller pests (notably possums) would find it less comfortable than nearby habitats – although I suspect DoC’s possum control plays a major part in the health of this small population.

The photograph above shows a closer view of a tree that is well on its way to a fully adult phase, whilst the image below shows the canopy of an adult tree that bore a considerable amount of developing fruit at the time of our visit (in late February).

Pittosporum patulum favours scrub in the upper parts of South Temple, closer to the headwaters. In significant weather events, the landscape pictured below will take on a much more violent character – with torrents of water cutting down the valley sides, creating the disturbance that provides species like P. patulum with their opportunities.

On a previous trip to visit Pittosporum patulum with friends, a belligerent kārearea (New Zealand falcon, pictured below, thanks to Kent Xie) added greatly to our experience – as it uttered shrill warnings and made a fearless swoop towards a friend’s head. These wonderful birds of prey have become rare, and it is therefore a privilege to see one at such close range within the wild.

A much more common sight within the beech forest that clothes much of South Temple is the diminutive rifleman. These tiny birds hop about on the tree trunks over much of the day, in search of insects.

On a trip during November 2012, a pretty green-flowered native Clematis, called C. marata, was in bloom amidst divaricate shrubs near the river channel. The bright red new growth of Blechnum penna-marina also made an arresting sight at the base of matagouri. This attractive, creeping fern showed no difficulties in competing with the exotic pasture grasses that form much of the cover in the lower reaches of South Temple.

And finally, an isolated plant of this rather unlikely-looking Hebe put on a magnificent display in rocky ground near the river (in November 2012). The dome-like, white flowerheads of Hebe epacridea bear a greater resemblance to certain species of Pimelea than typical Hebe inflorescences (which have a more elongated, pointed form). It is by no means the only spectacular flowering display to be viewed along South Temple; as at various times of year, Brachyglottis haastii, Olearia moschata, Dolichoglottis lyallii and the mistletoe, Peraxilla tetrapetala all produce an abundance of highly conspicuous flowers.