Peas and carrots

August 11, 2016

A winter trip to Central Otago doesn’t sound like the most auspicious time for looking at plants in the wild. Indeed, if the weather had not been as fine for the trip that an artist friend, Michael Shepherd, and I made, some of the places that we visited (including Wye Creek, on the western side of the Remarkables, and Nevis Valley) might have remained a mystery to us.

Michael was keen on seeing the area firsthand, as preparation for a series of paintings on which he will soon be working (particularly with respect to the vast expanses of the Manuherikia Valley), whilst I was hopeful of seeing certain plants and ecologies that I had hitherto not seen in nature (notably one member of the carrot family, Anisotome cauticola).

One of the sites that we visited (in the Kawarau Gorge) is one that I was already familiar with, as I had scrambled around on its steep slopes in search of an endemic native broom, Carmichaelia compacta, (from the pea family, Fabaceae, pictured above) and Pimelea aridula. This beautiful, north-facing hillside, with a distinctly minimal aesthetic to the vegetation, is sufficiently interesting to warrant repeat visits – and on this occasion a short walk up a narrow ravine led us to several specimens of Olearia avicenniaefolia (all maintaining close proximity to the watercourse).

Our trip also provided an opportunity to look at a place that featured within the book that I worked on with David Straight, ‘Vernacular’, yet which I had not visited. Towards the end of that project, David found time to go to Queenstown to photograph the Carrick Water Race (which winds its way along the hillsides of this valley towards Bannockburn), as well as visiting a walkwire in the direction of Milford Sound.

This is therefore one of a very small number of places that we did not visit together as part of our wide-ranging travels (as I was not able to spare the time for a second ‘Vernacular’ trip to this area). I was interested to see the simple means by which streams are partially diverted to feed the water races that are such a feature of this area. This can be seen in the image above, where a new section of race heads off around the hilside to the left.

On a botanical note, Nevis Valley has considerable numbers of a popular native sedge, Carex buchananii, growing in its lower reaches (pictured above) – which was as far as we got, due to the icy condition of the road.

For our last day in the area, we had a look around Sunshine Bay, within five minutes of the centre of Queenstown, which must surely be the closest natural population of Pseudopanax ferox to any major township within the country. The afternoon was then spent walking as far as we could on the Wye Creek track; once again determined by where ice on the track became extensive enough to make walking hazardous.

Within that beautiful valley (which runs down from the Remarkables to the lake), I came across the attractive, glaucous species of Acaena pictured above (A. dumicola), growing in the shade by the track. The main event for me on this particular track was to view an attractive native ‘carrot’, Anisotome cauticola, which occurs in this part of the country.

This fine-leaved herb emerges (in the absence of any vegetative company) from crevices in steep cliffs, where it forms a particularly verdant note in its austere surroundings (as shown in the photo below, right, where a large clump of A. cauticola grows in a band at the top of the cliff).