March 21, 2023

No. It’s not a typo. We do know how Tasmania is spelt.

We also learned how Tasmannia lanceolata is spelt during a short trip last week (in the pursuit of plant nerdery) to Hobart. We were fortunate to have our former colleague, Trent Hicks, to rely on for calibrating our botanical antennae, and it was Trent who suggested that we join him on a walk to Lake Skinner (where the image below, of Tasmannia growing in forest, was taken).

My interest in this species extends beyond its intriguing name, on the basis of its relationship to our four native species of horopito – which are members of the Winteraceae family. Whilst walking up to Lake Skinner, Trent, Logan and I were getting our heads around the identification of certain taxa, including several with relatives in NZ (and I was particularly keen on identifying Tasmannia).

Not feeling entirely confident of whether there might be other species with a very similar leaf and growth form, I decided that the taste method was the best route to confirming its identity. About 3 seconds after nibbling on some leaves, Trent and I concurred that this could only be horopito’s cousin – albeit with a much sharper flavour.

The photos above show Tasmannia lanceolata growing in montane shrubland (on Kunanyi, next to Hobart) and within forest understorey leading up to Lake Skinner (in the righthand image).

Specimens growing in shade (including the shrubs pictured below, right) exhibited interesting habitat preferences, in that they were commonly hemi-epiphytic – starting out life elevated above the ground in the spongy root zones of trees. This made sense when observing its growth habit, which bears notable similarities to 2 epiphytic shrubs from our northern flora – Brachyglottis kirkii and Pittosporum kirkii.

The walk up to Lake Skinner afforded us the opportunity to see the magnificent Richea pandanifolia (looking for all the world like a Dracophyllum on steroids in the photo above, left) and a close relative of our mountain toatoa (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius) growing in close association with the Richea.

The final image in this paean to Tasmannia shows another plant community on Kunanyi, in which the attractive reddish stems of T. lanceolata occupy the lower right section of this assemblage. One can readily see this species’ aesthetic appeal as a landscape plant (especially as a structural shrub), whilst its use as a native spice parallels horopito’s growing usage within cooking.