Consensus about when and where to stop can be elusive when out in the wilds. Unless, that is, someone has left a stencilled marker on the ground to indicate that you are indeed standing beneath the optimal pine tree for having a break.
Clearly, we are conformists when it comes to such things, as we decided to have our lunch beneath ‘Lunch Pine’ whilst walking up to observe ultramafic ecosystems around the Hacket (near Nelson).
The contents of our sandwiches are a distant memory now, but we all still vividly recall the fact that the ‘E’ on this sign was facing backwards. That, and the presence of a beautiful fern more commonly found within tree canopies, ngā makawe o raukatauri (Asplenium flaccidum), on the sloping, rocky ground near our lunch spot.
Amongst the range of distinctive species/forms that occur on toxic soils of ultramafic (otherwise known as serpentine) areas in this part of the country, the locally-occurring form of Melicytus aff. alpinus (shown below) is noteworthy for the colour conferred by its fawn-orange stems.
This small-leaved shrub is one of a wide array of related forms that exhibit subtle differences in growth form, stem colour and foliage density, depending on location. The Hacket variant has been in cultivation for several years but, in common with other members of this versatile and widespread species complex, still awaits its big moment.
Our walk was well timed for the attractive, white-flowered gentian below, Gentianella stellata, which emerged from fine-leaved grasses on dry banks. This species is restricted to ultramafic habitats of Nelson and Marlborough, including high points of D’Urville Island.
Having previously only skirted the fringe of ultramafic habitats here, this occasion was a good opportunity to comprehensively observe a native sedge (pictured below, left) that Lawrie Metcalf identified as a worthwhile landscape plant.
Despite Metcalf’s endorsement in his seminal book on native grasses and sedges, Carex devia is still unknown in cultivation – despite the fact that its drought tolerance, growth form and foliage colour are all valuable qualities.
Olearia “serpentina“, on the other hand, has been grown for many years – from Oratia Native Plant Nursery’s vast catalogue through to a handful of specialist nurseries at present.
This small-leaved daisy (above, right), which is now considered to be a form of Olearia virgata, brought a smoke-like character to the track sides and woodland edge in several parts of the track – demonstrating the kind of role that it can play in lending depth to plantings.