December 1, 2019

As is appropriate for spring and early summer, wildflowers are very much on the brain for me at present – especially due to the fact that I have made more visits than I customarily do to view the spectacular flowering displays of wildflowers at Waikumete Cemetery.

For many years, I have made a point of returning to Waikumete at different times of year to experience the rolling cast of bulbs, daisies, grasses, wild carrots, orchids, roses and even sweet peas that transform the cemetery into a series of extraordinary flowering meadows. The final act in this remarkable sequence is dominated by Ixia polystachya (shown above) which grows wall-to-wall in late November – having looked for all the world like grass before their buds start to open.

The genesis of this altered landscape lies in the synthesis of the pre-existing native gumland vegetation, the practical layer of large expanses of grassland, and a suite of primarily South African bulbs (such as Tritonia gladiolaris, pictured below) that have marched outwards from grave sites – where they would have been planted out of love for people laid to rest here.

Significant native species grow amidst these interlopers, assisted by the unusual range of conditions that naturally occur at Waikumete, and which are amplified by the act of burial – in which clay is frequently flipped to inadvertently establish an infertile layer on the surface. Infertile conditions favour certain rare plants such as the attractive grass pictured below (Dichelachne inaequiglumis) or native orchids (notably members of the genus, Thelymitra), as exotic weeds struggle to bully them in the absence of nutrients.

It was particularly gratifying to see that Dichelachne inaequiglumis occurs more widely in Waikumete than I previously thought; undoubtedly due in part to my flawed timing in previous years, when I had managed to see a grand total of one plant at the base of a gum tree.

Whilst the earliest species to make an appearance at Waikumete are daffodils, the middle of the season is marked by low masses of Babiana in various shades of dark blue, lilac and magenta. One of the delights of a foray in early November was seeing a honeybee rolling around within a Babiana flower like a small dog scratching itself on the ground. I presume that the pollen is held deep within the flower, but the bee seemed to be enjoying itself to an inordinate extent.

Some species are highly localised, such as the charming, small-flowered red hot poker below, which looked like a species (as opposed to an actively-bred variety). I had seen what looked to be a yellow-flowered species, Kniphofia gracilis, in flower before (not far from this clump), but had never seen this well-established clump.

The final photo within this journal entry is from a similarly strange, yet more emphatically native landscape on the margins of Waikumete. In gumland facing out towards the Waitakere Ranges, stunted manuka establishes a mantle beneath which orchids such as the greenhood (Pterostylis sp.) find suitable conditions to thrive, whilst the whippy stems of Dracophyllum sinclairii pierce the manuka canopy.