Poorly kept secrets

June 26, 2021

For a number of reasons, I have a fascination for remnants of urban biodiversity. Eschewing conventional concepts of nature (which are often focussed on the ‘otherness’ of wild places), they remind us that rare and significant plants and animals do not only endure in the distance, beyond the edge of dense settlement.

As in the case of the preceding journal entry (on Astelia grandis within suburban West Auckland), this account concerns one of our forays into little-known pockets of Auckland to view interesting plants.

I had already walked along this Hillsborough shoreline (with my sons and friends from the area), and was therefore familiar with the long fringe of coastal forest that stretches from Hillsborough all the way out to Titirangi and beyond.

It was during this previous walk that I noticed a colony of one of our native ‘irises’, Libertia grandiflora growing on a windy promontory. The pale yellow, reflective midrib that this species frequently exhibits on its leaves lends a sense of lightness to the shaded habitat in which it occurs –  as shown in the image above.

The species that we were most interested in seeing is a nationally threatened herb, Leptinella tenella, which occurs on hard mudstone within a small gully running down to the Manukau Harbour shoreline. The species epithet, tenella, means ‘delicate’ – in reference to its leaves, which are more dissected than many of its relatives (giving them a feathery appearance).

It was gratifying to see this rare herb still quietly thriving within 50m of the neighbourhood whose presence it predates, along with a significant population of Libertia grandiflora and the creeping groundcover, Lobelia angulata.

As with many other (frequently anonymous) urban remnants, this demonstrates that we need to adopt a nuanced view of nature in our cities – in light of the fact that satellites of biodiversity remain in some of the unlikeliest places.