Unforeseen potential

September 15, 2017

When presented with the rather unassuming sight of Carex inopinata in many of its natural populations, one would justifiably assume that its potential for horticulture is extremely limited. However, in the case of this aptly-named species (‘inopinata‘ is Latin for unforeseen), it takes on a more substantial form in gardens (as shown below), in which its bright green, wispy foliage offers a valuable (and distinctive) texture.

The image below (in the understorey of a dense, dry woodland in western Marlborough) demonstrates how sharply the bright green, mounding specimen shown growing in a garden above differs from C. inopinata‘s inconspicuous appearance in wild habitats. As with so many other subtle or unusual native species (whose appeal is not as obvious as the kinds of ‘star’ plants frequently sold by commercial nurseries), Oratia Native Plant Nursery pioneered the use of this species for horticulture.

The woodland that I visited with a nurseryman friend (Tim Le Gros of Titoki Nursery, Nelson) is dominated in one area by rohutu (Lophomyrtus obcordata) whose trunks (pictured below, left) develop attractive peeling bark in shades of light brown, orange and cream. The understorey is also marked by the presence of several small-leaved shrubs and small trees, such as weeping mapau (Myrsine divaricata, pictured below, right), which establish an ethereal feel in the woodland.

The atmosphere within the woodland is simultaneously brooding and lightweight, due to the contrast between intensely verdant sheets of two ground ferns, Pellaea rotundifolia (pictured below) and Asplenium flabellifolium, the expressive branching structure of rohutu, and the diaphanous character of the small-leaved shrubs that hover within the understorey.