Prickly Beauty

April 7, 2023

Australians do a fine line in slang, including my personal favourite – “going off like a frog in a sock”. A similarly casual approach to naming things became evident when I was getting my head around Tasmanian plants on a recent trip.

It was a member of the pea family that directed me towards this line of thought as we waded our way through options, before determining that the shrub in question was the wonderfully-titled Prickly Beauty (Pultenaea juniperina, pictured above).

Prickly. Tick (well, maybe a little). Beauty. Tick (when in flower at least).

The part that appeals most to me is not what is being described here, but the unaffected bluntness with which it has been named – as if someone has hastily scrawled a name on a car destined for the demolition derby.

Furthermore, to someone from our comparatively verdant islands, it’s not a bad way of describing the nature of certain coastal shrublands in Australia – especially when one considers the presence of various Hakea species (such as Hakea epiglottis, shown below, right, in flower).

Just the mention of Hakea strikes fear into the heart of anyone involved with conservation in the north of New Zealand, where members of this genus are aggressive (and physically abrasive) weeds. In its natural habitat, however, this member of the protea family sits in balance with the suite of species that have evolved in coastal shrublands at Cape Hauy.

The genus Epacris is more popular amongst New Zealand botanists, given that we have 3 native species (all white-flowered) and species from further afield (such as Epacris impressa, pictured above) have not jumped the fence from cultivation.

Indeed, this is a genus to be enjoyed in nature, given that most species share the same disdain for survival that many other epacrids exhibit within gardens.

By the end of our walk, Logan may have suspected that I had developed a case of Pimelea delusional syndrome, given that I mistook both Pultenaea juniperina and the species above (Epacris marginata, which is endemic to Tasman Peninsula) for possible species of Pimelea.

Plants that occur within particular conditions often develop similar adaptations. In this case, this has led to an appearance akin to species such as Pimelea tomentosa and Pimelea aridula within unrelated genera. Or at least, that’s my excuse.

In the case of the climber above (left), there is no chance of mistaking its genus, due to Billardiera‘s distinctive purple berries. This is probably the same species that has been grown for decades as a garden plant in New Zealand (B. longiflora), where it is both uncommon and behaves itself.

The intense colour of Billardiera was upstaged by the hyper-blue fruits of a robust relative of our native turutu. Dianella tasmanica is an impressive plant when in full fruit, but it is important to state that we should stick to our 3 native species within New Zealand – in light of the unfortunate promotion of this species on our shores in the last few years (where such a species might become weedy and adversely alter our natural environments).

On the return leg of the Cape Hauy track, I was intrigued by a dwarf shrub with hairy white flowers, which is clearly a member of the heath family (when one takes a close look). I was mystified as to its identity at the time, but subsequent research has steered me towards Leucopogon collinus – albeit a particularly tight-growing specimen.

The shrub shown in flower below, left (river rose, or Bauera rubioides), was common within damp areas adjoining the track. Its relationship to our flora is worth commenting upon, as it is from the family Cunoniaceae – to which towai, kamahi and our 2 species of Ackama belong. Anyone who has ever seen makamaka or kamahi in flower might be surprised by this relationship.

The species on the right, above, is much more straighforward in this regard, as the flowers of Leptospermum grandiflorum bear a strong resemblance to manuka. On this Tasmanian endemic, the foliage is larger, stiffer and brighter in tone (frequently with a glaucous hue) than our native species/forms of manuka.

I was happy to be able to see a species of the yellow-flowered dwarf shrub below, Hibbertia riparia, growing along the side of the track – as we have planted its lower-growing relative, H. procumbens, as a drought-tolerant groundcover before (especially in pots).

As we finished the walk, I took the opportunity to photograph a shrub with an interesting biogeographic story. Leucopogon parviflorus (pictured below) grows in eastern Australia and the Chatham Islands, but does not occur on NZ’s main islands (which sit in between these two points).

This unusual distribution is made even more intriguing by the presence of a closely-related dwarf species, Leucopogon xerampelinus, at Hikurua/Surville Cliffs – presumably as a relic of a time when L. parviflorus was present on our mainland.