Broom of the Baskervilles

October 26, 2017

Whilst some southern shepherds formerly referred to Carmichaelia crassicaulis by the name of ‘Sticks’, it is now more commonly known by the equally descriptive title of coral broom. As we drove along the Old Dunstan Road near Poolburn during Labour Weekend, one remarkable specimen of coral broom (the largest that I have seen) evoked the character of some kind of mythical beast marching through the red tussock.

The skies (and accompanying rain) lightened as we drove on, such that Poolburn Reservoir presented a less brooding face by the time that we looked out on it from above (as shown in the picture below). As with many of the roads in this part of the country, we would have liked to have simply kept driving, but time constraints kept us from exploring further.

The bright pink flowers and grass-green, whippy stems of Carmichaelia compacta lent an entirely different set of qualities to their habitat in Kawarau Gorge, where the flowers were just starting to open for the season. We have included this attractive, compact species in 2 designs for Central Otago projects, and despite having seen it in bloom in cultivation, this was the first time that I had seen it in flower in the wild.

A mat-forming forget-me-not (Myosotis uniflora) brings an equally cheerful note to its somewhat austere surroundings on old river terraces by Lake Dunstan, where this uncommon species grows with a wide range of interesting plants (several of which are rare or threatened). I had visited this reserve with two of my employees on a previous research trip, and had therefore timed our journey with the likely flowering of Myosotis uniflora.

As is so often the case with plants, this forget-me-not demonstrates greater similarities with its fellow inhabitants than the majority of its relatives, due to the nature of the environment that they share. Accordingly, its growth form echoes that of several species of Raoulia that are well adapted to the harsh conditions (high light, wind and drought) that plants in such a place (including the critically-endangered Leptinella conjuncta) must endure.

In several of the places that we visited (including Kawarau Gorge and Nevis Valley), Pimelea aridula was flowering profusely. At Flat Top Hill Conservation Area, rounded shrubs of this very attractive ‘native daphne’ grew as part of beautiful natural compositions (as pictured below), which are worth observing as excellent studies for designed plantings.