Riverine remnant

June 14, 2021

In this age of digital enlightenment, I am often surprised by the degree to which some significant landscapes and plants remain largely anonymous in our towns and cities. If anything, this just goes to show that one really needs to go out and look for oneself to find the answers to such burning issues as whether the regionally rare bog astelia (Astelia grandis) endures near the centre of our biggest city.

Aside from its aesthetic value, we are particularly interested in bog astelia as a significant former inhabitant of Central Auckland – where it was described (growing close to Ponsonby Rd) in the 1860s. Having seen it in upland areas of the Waitakeres, I was very interested in seeing whether a population adjoining a river in the midst of West Auckland suburbia still retained a large number of plants (or just a few remnant scraps).

What I wasn’t anticipating was the strange ‘holes’ in the streambed that are pictured below; a phenomenon that I had heard about elsewhere in this part of town. I asked 2 friends with a substantial interest in (and knowledge of) geology about the likely origin of these, but in the end, I’m not sure that I really care (as some things are best left as an enigma).

Returning to the matter of Astelia grandis’ prevalence at Manutewhau, we were pleasantly surprised to find large numbers of plants (mostly on flat ground near the stream) over a significant expanse of the reserve.

Other species associated with riverine areas, like kiekie (Freycinetia banksii; pictured below, left), flank the streambanks, and the scarp forest on the western side of the stream is a particularly good example of the former face of many of the hillsides that drain into the Waitemata Harbour’s shoreline and tributaries.

One of the most impressive elements of this scarp forest is kowhai (Sophora chathamica), with some truly enormous specimens emerging from the canopy near the mouth of the river, such as the brute in the centre of the image below. If we are sensitive enough to take a lead from this within Auckland, it opens up the possibility of a future in which kōwhai’s flowers once again erupt in spring at the points where our hills and streams feed into the harbour. That doesn’t sound like an especially challenging sales pitch to me.