Family: Araliaceae

Few native ‘villains’ have inspired such spirited resistance as the relatively benign members of this genus. Their sin, one of sullying the purity of the suburban lawn (and bowls or golf greens), has been punished for many years with chemicals.

However, if we cast aside this inherited prejudice, and objectively consider the more attractive Hydrocotyle species (notably H. dissecta and H. elongata), their tenacity should be viewed as an advantage. The two aforementioned species have had their potential recognised by Oratia Native Plant Nursery, who introduced Hydrocotyle elongata and H. dissecta to cultivation in recent years.

10 species of this wide-ranging genus are native to New Zealand. Interestingly, considering that the members of Hydrocotyle are soft, creeping herbs, the genus belongs in the same family as Pseudopanax (the ivy family).

Hydrocotyle elongata

This charming groundcover is not only the best Hydrocotyle species for widespread garden use; it is one of our finest groundcovers for warmer parts of the country. Although it is almost unknown within horticulture, its attractive appearance was noted almost 100 years ago by Thomas Cheeseman, when he included it in ‘Illustrations of the New Zealand Flora’.

Hydrocotyle elongata‘s soft leaves seem to hover above the ground, giving it a distinctive and elegant appearance. The leaves are further enhanced by their pale lime-green colour, a hue that lightens up the shaded spaces in which H. elongata is frequently found.

Although they can be rather variable in size (within differing conditions), its intricately-cut leaves are generally much larger than other native species of Hydrocotyle.

H. elongata grows in a wide variety of habitats, from dark, damp forest patches to the margins of open grassland. Therefore, as one might expect, it is tolerant of many conditions within gardens (although it achieves its best effect with at least a small amount of shade). It is an exceptional performer in dry shade, a situation in which a great deal of groundcovers struggle in the long term.

Hydrocotyle elongata grows over most of the length of New Zealand’s main islands, although it is more common in warmer parts of the country. It was discovered to science at Kerikeri in 1834, by one of the Cunningham brothers (Richard) – early botanical explorers who contributed much to the overall knowledge of our northern native plants.