Egmont’s eastern face

June 25, 2015

Although the purpose of recent wanderings in Taranaki was more concerned with built aspects of our landscapes (in preparation for the upcoming book, ‘Vernacular’), the allure of native plant communities was inescapable upon the eastern side of Mt Taranaki (or Egmont, as it is also commonly known). I was particularly keen on seeing a fine variety of Hebe called H. stricta var. egmontiana; a compact shrub which is pictured below by the trackside leading up to the skifield on the eastern face of the mountain.

Compared with more widespread varieties of H. stricta (notably H. stricta var. stricta¬†and H. stricta var. atkinsonii), this variety is an especially compact, tidy grower, with the added advantage of a more rigid, attractive leaf form. It bears large numbers of beautiful, usually white flowers towards the end of summer, and has a track record within cultivation under the cultivar name, ‘Snowcap’ (which is technically invalid1).

The abundant growth of a native herb was of even greater significance for me, due to my existing interest in Senecio rufiglandulosus for its potential as a garden species (and the fact that I had not seen it in the wild before this visit). With its large, yellow flowerheads, S. rufiglandulosus (pictured below, not in flower) is one of many species that go some way to disproving the oft-stated line that New Zealand does not possess a large number of native plants with brightly coloured flowers.

Plants are not the only landscape features worth observing on the tracks that go up to the skifield. An impressive concrete tunnel sits at the base of a rocky slope, to preserve the accessway in case of rock falls. Adjacent to the skifield facilities, intersecting boardwalks have coincidentally formed a dynamic aesthetic that has arisen directly from the function.

Over the last 18 months, I have noticed the small plant that is pictured below in several locations, including on a Wellington site on which we have been working. This genus of herbaceous plants, Euphrasia, bears elegant flowers that seem at odds with its hemi-parasitic nature. Species of Euphrasia are relatively common in montane areas and grasslands, where they derive part of their living from the roots of adjacent herbs and grasses.

The contrasting textures of a bronze-leaved shrubby daisy, Brachyglottis eleagnifolia and the fine, needle-like leaves of Dracophyllum filifolium (pictured below) contribute towards interesting mosaics (including tussocks and Hebes) of vegetation that grow together in a relatively even canopy.

On the road leading up the side of the mountain, specimens of the impressive mountain cabbage tree (Cordyline indivisa, or toi) emerge from the margins of forest. The bold heads of glaucous foliage on C. indivisa make this an alluring subject for many gardeners with a particular interest in our native flora, although it is a challenging plant to grow outside the cool environs in which it makes its home within the wild.


  1. Further details of the use of the cultivar name, ‘Snowcap’, are provided within Lawrie Metcalf’s excellent publication, ‘Hebes : a guide to species, hybrids and allied genera’.