Gaultheria motive

January 5, 2020

A cursory glance at the O2 Landscapes’ journal reveals an unhealthy penchant for botanical puns; an affliction that is only reinforced by daily interactions within the workplace (with Rob Champion and Winston Dewhirst being principal perpetrators during their time with us).

With this in mind, this journal entry would appear to be primarily for their benefit, considering the occasions that we have driven past populations of Gaultheria spp. (snowberries) on our way to projects within Central Otago – often noting that we should stop to observe these attractive shrubs in flower when the opportunity arises.

Although I had already seen species of Gaultheria in bloom within the wild, I had never caught this particular population (on the Crown Range) in full flower until a recent site visit to Wanaka. Timing my return trip with a few extra minutes up my sleeve for Gaultheria admiration, I stopped at an outcrop in upper parts of the Crown Range road, where a species of snowberry (probably G. crassa) is a conspicuous component of grassland near the road.

Unsurprisingly, considering the diversity of so many South Island plant communities, many more species of interest occur amidst the tussocks and on the rock outcrops that punctuate the mantle of tussockland – including small-leaved hummocks of the Dracophyllum species pictured below (which I am guessing is D. rosmariniifolium, although the assemblage of related species in montane areas is a group of plants that I have not often had cause to differentiate).

One look at the image below makes apparent the potential of snowberries for horticulture, on the basis of their compact growth form and attractive flowering displays (followed by fruits of various hues). However, despite an expansion in the range of montane native species that are readily available (over recent decades), Gaultheria has mostly escaped the attention of gardeners and landscape architects.

In fact, the major interest expressed in this genus in recent years has been focussed on the potential of their fruits, which have been explored as a native option for edible berries. To date, I have not tried these out myself, but (irrespective of flavour) the sheer novelty of serving ‘snowberry pie’ is something that I feel certain merits future examination of its culinary uses.