Spiderwoods and eyebrights

April 3, 2014

Having projects in different parts of the country affords opportunities for visiting interesting plant communities in the wild. This journal entry shows some plants that I was able to view during recent business trips to Nelson and Wellington. Although I explored some areas of the Nelson region many years ago, I had never been up Mt Arthur (despite wanting to go there for a long time). The most well-known botanical drawcard of Mt Arthur is the remarkable series of spiderwood (Dracophyllum traversii) groves that occupy ridgelines on the main track.

The image above shows a particularly impressive specimen of D. traversii – which, aside from ‘spiderwood’, is also commonly known as neinei. At various points, the track was flanked by an elegant bush tussock called Chionochloa conspicua (pictured below). This species deserves to be used more in gardens, as it provides a similar sense of grandeur to our species of toetoe (Austroderia) in a more compact overall package.

Through upper stretches of the forest, there were very large Astelia colonies (below, left) that I presumed to be a forest form of Astelia nervosa. Of considerably more interest to me was the presence of Olearia lacunosa (below, right), a beautiful species of tree daisy with leaf characters that are more akin to a lancewood than most of its relatives.

In the upper parts of the forest, some large specimens of O. lacunosa possess wonderfully contorted trunks, with the additional appeal of beautifully coloured, flaking bark. The branchlets and leaves (pictured below) exhibit rusty-brown tints that give it a very distinguished appearance, not dissimilar to some species of Rhododendron.

Above the bushline, silver clumps of Astelia (presumably an upland form of A. nervosa) look barely plausible – such is the extent of their metallic hue. In the more open, grassy ground between the Astelia and the compact shrubs of narrow-leaved Dracophyllum (the other major element in the image below), white gentians were in flower throughout.

As we drove back down from Mt Arthur, we stopped to look at a group of Hebe stenophylla (shown below) growing by the roadside. This local form has been in cultivation for a long time (probably originally sourced from plants near to this population), including in gardens in which we have specified it.

During the following week, I had several meetings in Wellington – including at a site where interesting native plant and insect species are thriving. The land adjacent to this site has significant wild populations of the tree nettle (Urtica ferox), and as a result the air was filled with the largest concentration of Red Admiral butterflies (pictured below) that I have seen. The prolific growth of several species of Hebe (including H. stenophylla, H. parviflora & H. stricta) makes a considerable contribution towards providing sufficient habitat (in the form of nectar) for the butterflies.

As we made our way out of the property, my eye was caught by large quantities of attractive white flowers emerging from the bank. This small plant, commonly known as an ‘eyebright’, is especially interesting due to its semi-parasitic nature (whereby it derives sustenance from adjacent grasses or herbs). By knowing that the site is home to this eyebright (Euphrasia cuneata), the owners of this property can preserve and encourage this beautiful plant; a detail that would otherwise be extremely difficult to introduce to the site.