Though they are all daisies of one form or another, Brachyglottis comprises a diverse assemblage of species; some of whom are shrubs, some herbs, and one weirdo who’s decided to ply its trade as a scrambling climber (Brachyglottis sciadophila).
Gardeners or landscapers are most likely to be familiar with a group of varieties that are often misnamed as Brachyglottis greyi (they are actually called the Dunedin Hybrids)1. I have never been a great fan of these Dunedin Hybrids in the manner that they are often used within gardens; for their dull grey hue and dense mounds of rounded leaves can lend them a stodgy appearance (particularly where they are planted in large numbers). That said, the vibrant yellow flowers of B. greyi are amongst the finest in the New Zealand flora. In my opinion, they achieve their best effect when planted in situations similar to how they occur within nature (open, rocky habitats where their form is frequently read in isolation from other shrubs).
One characteristic that I have noticed in several species of Brachyglottis is ably demonstrated by the image of Brachyglottis hectorii above (in flower on Takaka Hill), whereby plants put on such enthusiastic flowering displays that they exhibit considerable dieback of leading branches afterwards. It is as if, despite having evolved into woody growth forms, they have partially retained the tendency of many herbs to expend huge energy in sending out flowering stems and then retreat back to a more compact core.
Another well-known member of the genus is rangiora (Brachyglottis repanda) – a shrub or small tree whose large, pale leaves are a conspicuous feature of lowland forests in much of New Zealand. It has taken on a somewhat ignominious cultural value that is denoted by its other common name, bushman’s toilet paper. By all accounts, its leaves are eminently suited to this application; however, I cannot offer any opinion from personal experience.
Brachyglottis is only found in New Zealand, where c. 29 species occur in a variety of habitats. Its members were historically included within the wide-ranging asteraceous2 genus, Senecio; with the exception of rangiora (B. repanda) – which has been generally accepted as belonging to its own genus (that is, Brachyglottis) since J.D. Hooker prepared the first authoritative account of New Zealand’s flora in 1853.
The name, Brachyglottis, actually seems a fairly poor descriptive term for many of the species; such as B. haastii, which is profiled below. It translates from ancient Greek as “short tongue”, in reference to the length of the ray florets (the flower parts that look like petals in the photographs of B. haastii). However, as the images of B. haastii attest, the ray florets on Brachyglottis can be quite long.
Yellow daisies, most notably Rudbeckia fulgida, have become a prominent feature in the work of many landscape designers (such as Piet Oudolf and Wolfgang Oehme). Their vibrant discs are not only valued for the colour that they provide, but also for the way in which they hover above the foliage. In addition, they can bring a sense of wildness to a garden, for many of us associate the daisy form with meadows (or prairies, in the case of America).
Considering their popularity, it is surprising that one spectacular native daisy, Brachyglottis haastii, is scarcely mentioned in New Zealand gardening literature3 – and is, at most times, impossible to procure from nurseries. This herb, from lowland to montane areas of the South Island, is not just deserving of attention for its bright yellow flowers, but for the very attractive silvery (or sometimes brownish) foliage.
As with many plants, B. haastii’s appearance varies markedly in different habitats. The image shown above is from plants on the edge of beech forest near Lake Ohau, where plants demonstrate the refined rosettes of silvery leaves and large, wide-spreading flower heads that lend it such potential for cultivation. However, I have also observed this species in the Pukaki Scenic Reserve (and elsewhere), within harder, more open aspects, in which the foliage assumed a bronzish-brown hue, and is much tighter in form (so much so that I initially assumed it to be one of our native species of Plantago at Pukaki).
According to Cockayne3, this plant is one of our montane species that is well suited to being grown within borders, whilst Lawrie Metcalf identified it as a species that is worthy of a place in gardens. Early trials that we have conducted indicate that this outstanding flowering species is not difficult to grow – whilst the fact that it occupies a wide range of habitats in nature is a good sign for a plant’s potential for gardens. Given that it is often found in rocky habitats (like the cliffs shown below, above Lake Hawea), sharp drainage around the crown of the plant is advisable for ensuring success.
B. haastii is named in honour of Julius von Haast, who served as a geologist in Canterbury’s formative years; and who, like many of his contemporaries, held a broad range of interests in the sciences. This extended to botany, a field in which Haast made a significant contribution, especially regarding our alpine flora. This species was described by J.D. Hooker (the Director of Kew Gardens at the time); with whom Haast corresponded to communicate his botanical observations.
It occurs over much of the South Island, from north Canterbury to Southland, from 300 to 1500m in altitude4. The flowers appear from December to February, and are visited by native insects like the native bee shown in the photo below5.