Conserving the plants of eastern South Island limestone, Nga tipu o te pakeho

Just released Conserving the plants of eastern South Island limestone, Nga tipu o te pakeho, by Peter Heenan and Geoffrey Rogers is a free to download publication on the conservation of specialised limestone flora of the eastern South Island (Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago), also available as a stunning wee A5 field book. The first 50 pages outline the geology, evolution/history of these calcicole (limestone loving) plants, the challenges they face and the threats which are bringing many to the brink of extinction.  This is followed by 74 fact sheets (2 pages each) for each of the specialist limestone plants known from the eastern South Island.  27 of these plants are yet to be described and formally named, for now they have intriguing tagnames like Craspedia “Awahokomo” (a woollyhead) and Myosotis “Waipara” (a forget-me-not).  A nice touch is the inclusion of a couple of paintings by Nelson artist and former South Marlborough Threatened Plant Botanist, Cathy Jones, one being Limestone violet and Limestone angelica instantly recognisable for the few in the know of this special place.

Here are a few sample pages of personal favourites, click on the photo to see it at a readable scale.


Click this link to download Nga tipu o to pakeho and then ‘Download full-text pdf’.  For a hard copy contact , there’s a cost for P&P of $5.50 within NZ

Nga tipu o te pakeho, was preceded in 2018 by a relatively technical document written for the Department of Conservation, also by Geoff and Peter along with Shannel Courtney, providing an overview of the situation for limestone plants at a national level.  ‘Science for Conservation 331. The calcicolous vascular flora of New Zealand Life forms, taxonomy, biogeography and conservation status‘.  Which is available for download from the Dept’s publications page here, and for the fact conscious, I’ve included the abstract.


This report describes the life forms, taxonomic status, geological biogeography and conservation status of 152 calcicolous taxa in New Zealand, 91 (60%) of which have been formally named. Of the remaining 61 unnamed taxa, 26 are raised in this study with supporting voucher specimens. This is the first endeavour to describe the calcicolous vascular flora of New Zealand which, at 5.6% of the estimated total New Zealand vascular flora, is substantially greater than previously thought. Most calcicoles (91%) are confined to the South Island, with only 13 taxa occurring in the North Island, and 95% of the calcicoles are endemic to regionally-confined geological units, with a richness bias towards units located in West Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury. In addition, 73% have total habitat areas of < ̄10 ha, likely as a result of adaptation to persistent, isolated, differentiated terrains that provided non-forest habitat throughout the numerous climatic cycles of the Pleistocene. In total, 71 (47%) of the calcicolous taxa are ranked as Data Deficient or Threatened (cf. 14% of the entire flora), 43 (29%) of which are ranked as Nationally Critical. However, 33 (46%) currently receive no form of conservation management. Together, our measures of taxonomic resolution and extinction risk argue for this being a particularly under recognised and threatened flora and ecosystem.

Click to access Conserving-the-plants-of-eastern-South-Island-limestone-Nga-tipu-o-te-pakeho.pdf

On a personal level, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of these plants and in these outstanding landscapes, which I would hope everyone can appreciate for their sheer awesomeness.

Nga tipu o to pakeho author Geoff Rogers walks through the Sawcut Gorge in Marlborough

Here’s a few pics and observations from working with ‘the plants belonging to limestone’ in the last 20 years.

Surveying the Chalk Range

On a southern part of the Chalk Range with the Chalk Range speargrass p56

for the Chalk Range cress (Pachycladon fasciarum, p160)

Pachycladon fasciarum, Chalk Range cress

Dave Barker and I, carried a roll of weldmesh onto the crest of the range to install some experimental cages.


Because the numerous goats


are probably the biggest, immediate, threat facing this plant at the current time.

goat browsed Chalk Range cress

More recently I was privileged to join Nelson botanists and one of the authors, (Geoff) onto Ben More  and into Isolation Creek.


Ben More is a prominent (1200m) hill cloaked in native tussock


that crests onto an escarpment

Artist and botanist Cathy Jones inspects the Ben More escarpment

home to the forget-me-not (Myosotis arnoldii, p150),


amongst other cool plants


Down in Isolation Creek


The stunning canyon is decorated by the equally stunning Mathew’s harebell (Wahlenbergia mathewsii, p206)  along with a host of other calcicolous plants.

Botanist Shannel Courtney inspects Wahlenbergia mathewsii in Isolation Creek


Tengawai escarpment, crevices, the habitat of two endemic and other rare plants have been taken over by exotic plants following nutrient enrichment.

Altitude, scale and isolation do a lot to protect the flora of places like Isolation Creek but the bulk of the special species are found in small, fragmented landscapes such as the Tengawai escarpment.

Here the future for the plants is gloomy at best.  Farming pressures have seen the covering shrubby vegetation sprayed off and the escarpment fertilised and oversown.  Whether deliberate or accidental doesn’t really matter, the deed is done, and the calcicoles over much of the escarpment are dead and gone displaced by a thin scurf of  ryegrass, clover and weeds, it will take radical changes in management to turn the tide on habitat loss here. On at least one section goats are farmed, they in turn camp on the escarpment resulting in additional nutrients that filter down the crevices boosting the weeds that dislocate the unique calcicoles like the endemic Tengawai buttercup (Ranunculus callianthus, p178)

Limestone angelica (Gingidia enysii, p142)

Limestone geranium (Geranium socolatum, p140)

and the endemic Manahune gentian (Gentianella calcis ssp. manahune, p134) not pictured in this post.

The Tengawai story is repeated to some degree at most of the sites where limestone outcrops across both islands. Economic pressures, ignorance of the values present in farmed sites and the general encroachment of exotic plants, with grazing by exotic animals, combine to create a unique flora under pressure of extinction.

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Sometimes the air tastes of campfire and

Sometimes there’s a haze way out in the west

Sometimes the sun is cloaked in red

As Australia burns

There’s a tragedy unfolding 1200 miles to the north west as forest fires engulf large swathes of eastern Australia from Queensland to Victoria.  In big events like the infamous Ash Wednesday Fires, NZ has a few days of haze and fiery sunset/sunrise and it’s all over.  This is the first time I can remember it going on for over a month and it looks set to continue for weeks more.

This feed from 6 Dec demonstrates the nature of the problem, gum trees burn like napalm, and the fires cover vast areas (NSW map at the bottom of the article).

I thought this breakdown of how Australian bushfires start was interesting.  It’s probably similar in other western countries.

pie chart copied from above source


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Black Friday

I know it’s not the 13th but the 15th will have to do because today the sky fell in.  I’ve been temporarily occupying a desk in one of Christchurch’s new glass towers and around early afternoon the street below was full of cop cars, all sirens and lights, dashing in different directions, a scene fit for the Keystone Cops.  It took a while for the news to filter through, and soon after our building was locked down, no one in or out.  All of this is just context.

Today at around 1.30pm, two mosques were attacked.  At one, 41 men, women and children were killed, at the other 7, and one of the 48 wounded has now died in hospital.  4 people are in custody and one has been charged.

Right now instinct tells me to keep my head down, but to do nothing is in a sense to be complicit to this outrage, instead I’ll tell you that I’m shocked, deeply saddened and angry at the perpetrators.  In the morning I’ll be looking into what I can do in a more concrete way for this sector of our community.

Walking across town through streets that are normally buzzing on a Friday evening, but now emptied out by the lock down, even the gulls seemed subdued.

But it gave me time to think about how I feel about the days events. I’m not just angry at the perpetrators, I’m angry too at that extremely minor, minority of outspoken neo-nazi, white supremacist, bootboy, skinhead scumbags, of which Christchurch seems to have more than its fair share, who are complicit because of their views and openly expressed hatred for anyone not like them. This is not the NZ I’m used to,  it’s not our way, even for bigots, to express hatred with such an act of violence.  As the PM said we have “no place here” for the perpetrators of this act of terrorism.

It’s been a dark day, and there will be more to follow as the details come out.  I won’t like it, but I’m prepared to give up my ‘right’ to shoot pests and hunt for game if tougher gun laws can help prevent a repeat of this day, and I aim to support the victims in whatever ways are practical for me to do so.

Kia kaha, kia manawanui.

‘Be brave, be strong of heart’


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West Island: Part II Brisbane to Girraween

Brisbane to Girraween National Park via Boonah, Woodenbong, Tabulam and Tenterfield

We could have flown, bused or railed to Sydney but decided to take a few days, spending each night in a different National Park. I’d also decided that I didn’t want to travel the main roads. On Google Earth it looked like the old Pacific Highway was mostly through conjoined towns with the only breaks in the houses coming at coastal National Parks while the relatively new M1 coastal motorway takes a more inland route (good if you want to do the 11 – 12 hours drive in one sitting but that’s about it). Inland the New England Highway sweeps through the landscape in graceful curves bypassing features and an expectation of being pushed along by the other traffic – boring and frustrating I expect. So I found a compromise of winding but sealed roads to take us between the two main routes venturing onto the New England Highway occasionally and sadly the M1 from Newcastle to Sydney. Our route took us back and forth over the dividing range with the added bonus that for much of the journey altitude moderated temperatures down into the high 20’s (Celsius)


Heading south from Brisbane toward Ipswich

Continue reading

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistice WWI.  Today is the Centenary and I missed it! It had slipped my notice until the commemoration events hit today’s news, taking top spot in all the reporting.  But it’s not too late for those in the rest of the world to take part.

New Zealand events were all over the country with two minutes silence followed by an encouragement for people where ever they were to recreate the celebration sounds (horns, whistles, cheering etc. etc.).

I heard tell of another commemorative horse ride, but I couldn’t find any reference to it.  I did do posts on two rides a couple of years ago, here and here, and found that I’d missed another noteworthy horse event A YEAR AGO, the unveiling of Hamilton’s warhorse sculpture.


Warhorse sculpture by Matt Gauldie. Photo

To be a Mounted Rifle the soldier needed to bring his own horse from NZ, most of the men forming close bonds with their horses.  The sculpture depicts a Waikato horse searching for it’s fallen rider at Beersheba, a town near Gaza, taken by the Australian Light Horse on 31 October 1917.  First a major infantry engagement on the far side of the town, and to clear the way for the Australians, a 6 hour fight by the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury Brigades of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the First Australian Lighthorse Brigade, to take a fortified hill , Tel el Saba, overlooking the line of approach and  the town.

We can let the Australians have this one, a similar feat was achieved by the NZ forces at Ayun Kara on 14th November 1917



Earlier that year the Otago Mounted Rifle Brigade played a key role in the Battle of Messines, Belgium in the lead up to the Battle of Passchendaele.  Two British corp and the II ANZAC Corp would advance on Messines and the Otagos would charge through them to speed the advance and gather intelligence on enemy positions and movements.  In the event they made it 800m behind enemy lines before being forced to dismount by heavy fire.  A rather heroic painting by M. Gauldie, depicts the charge (part of which is shown here).  From 7 June to 9 June the NZ Division (just one of 9) suffered 3700 casualties.




In Christchurch, Cranmer Square has been decorated to portray Canterbury’s losses with 4389 crosses and 1 Star of David (see if you can find it).  The full article on the Christchurch City Council website can be found here:



Cranmer Sq, Christchurch, Armistice Day Centenary commemoration. Photo CCC

“In all, 103,000 New Zealanders served overseas during World War I from a population of 1.1 million. There were 59,500 casualties, with 18,200 dying and 41,300 wounded.”


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Tu Matakuru

Finding the elusive wrybill, ngutuparore (lips turned aside),

female wrybill and nest

in the Rakaia River is sometimes pleasant

Rakaia River, Canterbury, NZ

sometimes simply vile Continue reading

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West Island: Part I – avoiding Brisbane

West Island

When I worked in National Parks I’d often meet tourists who expressed surprise at how hard it is to get here, they (usually USAmericans) had this idea that NZ was a small island just off the coast of Australia, well I have to say it’s the other way around, Australia is a small continent a long way off the west coast of NZ. We’ve recently had a flying visit to that red continent, some of us affectionately refer to as the West Island or  The Big Red Dusty.

Kirsty and Rellies on Mt Coot-Tha, Brisbane city behind.

Continue reading

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One of the things we Treecroppers are known for is struggling with marginal crops.  For me, number one has to be figs.  We have a few varieties strategically planted with a wall to their south to try and make that extra warmth they need.

One is an experimental variety which I lost the name of but it’s attractive with a strong fig flavour

Don’t know the variety but this fig tastes like caramelised brown sugar with some sort of spice added in

Not at all like the bland brown turkey variety

Brown turkey fig, nice colour and sweet but low in flavour

When we can get them they make good hot puddings, jam, fig and apple leather and are excellent with feijoa on cereal. Continue reading

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Farm Foresters in the hills of Cheviot

Mendip Hills

Thursday last week, North Canterbury Farm Forestry visited Mendip Hills. We looked at a harvested site, some young cypress and Douglas fir and got blown off a highpoint (the planned lunch venue), by a wet and icy wind. No bother, retiring to the woolshed there was a great hubbub as farmers from all over North Canterbury had a general catch up.  After that we were told how large areas of native vegetation are being managed for carbon sequestration and collecting manuka honey.  The latter is a sideline that the owners intend to enhance with manuka planting and carbon farming on the less productive parts of the station, such as the c. 25km2 Mt Stewart block.

Now if you’re new to this site and feeling a little disoriented that’s OK, because as any Brit probably knows The Mendip Hills are in Somerset not Canterbury. It doesn’t help that the nearest town here, is Cheviot, nestled on the edge of a formerly swampy plain, when anyone from the Borders knows Cheviot is one of the high hills in Northumberland. This Mendip Hills is bounded on the East by the Conway River (after the River Conwy in North Wales ) and on the south and west by the Leader River (after the River Leader, on the Tweed near Lauder in the Scottish Borders). This then is not The Mendip Hills but the Mendip Hills Station. The English settlers here might as well have drawn names out of a hat for all the geographical sense they make, or perhaps I just like order too much.

Mendip Hills is a big station at around 6000 ha but a fraction of it’s original 16,000ha, this link gives a quick review of some early history and a photo of the 1917 woolshed

Photo of Mendip Hills Woolshed in 1917

Continue reading

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First proper post in a long time

Sometimes I get to do hard graft in interesting places.  A recent overnight stay on the coast south of Kaikoura was brought about by a seek and destroy mission for Old Man’s Beard (OMB), Clematis vitalba, and Banana Passionfruit.  It also gave me my second contact with the Kaikoura district since the devastating earthquake over 18 months ago, even though Claverley at the mouth of the Conway River (Piri tutae putaputa) is really on the periphery of the core damage areas.  Environmental weeds just haven’t been a priority put up against rebuilding roads, houses, sheds and fences.

Above and below: Old man’s beard, Clematis vitalba, smothers native forest

Banana passionfruit, attractive and tasty but a scourge for coastal forests

This was a revisit to follow up on work done three years ago, long overdue but unavoidable with road closures and a shortage of accommodation with so many houses uninhabitable after the big quake.  Three years ago, trees were being pulled down by the weight of vines and there were vines of all ages throughout the native forest remnants that were to be rescued.  OMB was spread over a 20m circle having already pulled down the trees in the middle.  Banana passionfruit, had vines so big that I dragged my arborists chainsaw into the jungle and with great piles of vines like spaghetti on the ground I fashioned a drill bit to fit into one of those old spiral ratchet screwdrivers and injected a stiff mix of glyphosate into the holes.

Gallery, mouse over for captions or click to enlarge.

Some of my vine drilling had been very effective but on vines that had layered (rooted where the vine touched the ground) or with decayed cores, it hadn’t always done the job.

The real challenge is finding all the banana passionfruit vines and not killing a whole heap of  the native vines, particularly as one remnant forest is full of native passionfruit and the vines are near to identical, while the leafy bit 10m up on the outside of the canopy can be 20m away from the vine on the ground.

Gallery: a litany of lianas

Accommodation for the night was a self contained cabin on a local farm.  Arriving in dusk I didn’t notice the stunning view until the morning, and as I was leaving I finally noticed  the earthquake damage to the adjacent house (soon to be demolished).

Some of the areas to be gone over, are old sea cliffs where getting around relies heavily on swinging off, standing on and hauling up on, the trees, vines and grasses. Topping out from a scramble involving hanging off the wind-sculpted dreads of pohuehue, Muehlenbeckia complexa, I could hear a murmur and much heavy breathing.  Raising my head, almost close enough to touch, a mob of young Angus had gathered at the clifftop drawn by my thrashing and muttering, quite unused to seeing a prone human.


Prime Angus

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