March 26, 2020

One of the innumerable benefits of living in New Zealand is the relatively close proximity of diverse environments to each other. In an apt example of this, I recently spent 2 days showing UK colleagues around the Wellington region; including one day spent observing subalpine scrub at Remutaka Trig before taking the relatively short trip down to the coast at the western end of Palliser Bay.

One of the most vivid impressions within this ecosystem was the flame-like character of the widespread Dracophyllum longifolium (the dominant shrub in the image above), which lends a recessive, shifting tone to the hillside – like burning bushes.

As in other high points that I have visited near Wellington (notably at Belmont Regional Park), a small-leaved relative of our Pseudopanax species, called Raukaua anomalus (pictured above), is a conspicuous component of shrubland at Remutaka Trig. Another member of its twiggy cohort, Coprosma dumosa, is pictured below, with this particular specimen offering unequivocal evidence of the direction of the prevailing winds.

A striking species of Astelia associated with colder habitats (A. nervosa, shown below) grows here within both rockfield and scrub. Aside from its overall form, this highly attractive species often has distinct stripes along its metallic-coloured leaves.

Despite being more frequently encountered as an epiphyte, the scented orchid pictured below, Earina autumnalis, is terrestrial in many places (especially rocky places). Along the side of the track leading to the trig, this species pushes through groundcovers and compact shrubs (the latter having been brutally reduced by the winds); often in the company of an attractive parasitic herb called Euphrasia (the members of which are referred to as eyebrights).

Another diminutive character associated with colder parts of the country is the yellow-flowered daisy in the image below, called Brachyglottis lagopus. I was interested to hear from my friend, Finn Michalak, who was one of our group, about how the subalpine scrub at the summit of the Remutakas has a relatively recent origin – with many of the plants that have set up shop in this area having probably blown in from the Ruahines when ancestral vegetation was burnt out (causing profound landscape change).

It is somewhat fitting at this point to state that I am perfectly aware of how ‘Remutaka’ should be spelt (especially given my natural inclination as a stickler for spelling). In recent years, the name of the ranges that most of us have always known as the Rimutakas was altered to reflect its authentic name (and the origins thereof). Hailing as I do from Auckland, I can fully appreciate the perils of misspelling one crucial letter within a placename.