Corner Creek

March 30, 2020

Violence is writ large upon many of New Zealand’s landscapes, whether in the form of dramatic, tilted base rock, large slips and rockfalls, or the varied, insistent paths carved out by water. Palliser Bay illustrates this better than most places, and like other places where disturbance is a constant, an array of interesting plant communities find opportunities amidst this dynamism.

Pseudopanax ferox (toothed lancewood) is associated with many disturbed habitats around New Zealand, especially where fertility is relatively high. I have been fortunate enough to see wild plants of this species in several parts of the country, but had wanted to visit this substantial population for a while – especially given the presence of large adult trees within it (of which Leon Perrie, Te Papa’s botany curator, took a particularly good image several years ago).

Given its general apppearance (of a plant whose leaves look built for dry, exposed conditions), I have been surprised in several places to observe that its juvenile form is well adapted to growing within reasonably heavy shade.

This is also the case at Corner Creek, where young plants pierce through the overhead canopy before eventually changing to their adult form. This observation is more interesting for what it says about potential for cultivation than for adding to the slew of theories that have been proposed for its growth form over the course of more than a century (of which I find climatic factors more convincing than the well-known moa argument).

The photograph above shows adult trees on a ridgeline adjacent to the coast at the western end of Palliser Bay. Ascending the ridge in question was a somewhat challenging exercise due to the dense undergrowth – amongst which the broken branches of Olearia were the chief culprits for causing considerable discomfort.

Having made our way far enough into the coastal scrub (and enough broken Olearia branches), we headed back down to the shoreline – mainly in anticipation of a side trip to a brewery on the way back, but also to have a brief look at plant communities on the raised beach terraces and lower-lying beach areas.

These included ‘herbfields’ of Raoulia and Pimelea (although the prostrate sheets of Pimelea are better defined as subshrubs), as shown in the image above. My inability to photograph an attractive species of moth associated with coastal Pimelea communities like this, Notoreas, continued on this occasion, as the two specimens that I followed on their agitated flight path between shrubs were as uncooperative as ever (refusing to alight for even 5 seconds for a picture).

Given the exposed aspect and raised position of these terraces, I was surprised to see Ranunculus acaulis (a diminutive buttercup, pictured above) growing right on the edge of the 3m dropoff, due to the fact that I had hitherto mostly associated it with damp habitats. On the other hand, a sight that I was expecting to see was the sand tussock (Poa billardierei, shown below) growing along the beach – considering that Ocean Beach is noted as a particularly good site for this nationally rare species.