Botanical correctness is important in the majority of cases, but sometimes it passes over into the realm of excessive pedantry. Now this might have been fine when botany was the domain of spectacularly-whiskered Victorian gentlemen, but it doesn’t really wash at a time when botanists and horticulturists are attempting to engage with a wider audience (to bring attention to the importance and beauty of our natural world).
Lagenophora is perhaps the supreme example of this, for it has been (and continues to be) known by two almost identical names; one of Latin derivation (Lagenifera), and one of Greek derivation (Lagenophora). Mystifyingly, taxonomists have seen this as a topic worthy of debate. Considering that both names mean exactly the same thing (‘flagon-bearing’, in reference to the shape of the flowerhead1), it doesn’t fundamentally matter which one is used – as long as one is aware that they both refer to the same plant.
Lagenophora is a genus of small daisies, several of which bear a considerable resemblance to common lawn daisies (Bellis perennis). It is found in Australasia, southeast Asia, Hawai’i and South America; with 9 species occurring in New Zealand.
Lagenophora pumila‘s rather impressive Māori name belies its stature, for this plant is one of the smaller details within its natural habitats. I have a soft spot for L. pumila – in part due to its similarity to common lawn daisies – and it is always a pleasure to find this refined, little character on the northern coastal cliffs that I most strongly associate with it.
Much of my knowledge regarding this species has come from Jeff McCauley, who has spent many years investigating our lesser-known native plants in the wild (as well as attempting to make them better known through cultivation). Jeff has observed the variability of L. pumila in the wild (a point commented upon by H. H. Allan in ‘Flora of NZ’, Vol. 12), and has noted that plants from streamsides tend to be more compact than certain forms from coastal cliffs (as well as differing in characteristics other than size).
It is capable of growing within a range of habitats, from cliffs to grassland and open forest (including Woodhill Forest, near Auckland, where plants of L. pumila form considerable patches in parts3). Although it can achieve a long lifespan in the wild, it is better suited to playing an ephemeral roles in gardens. Where conditions are suitable, papataniwhaniwha will self-seed, as it reliably has in display beds for Jeff McCauley (especially in dry areas where more vigorous competitors do not push them around). This is a good way of treating many of our smaller herbs – as highlights that provide dynamism and seasonal interest amidst the structure of gardens.