Before I start, a big thank you to Wildlands consultancy scientists Brian and Mellissa for being such good guides and sharing their knowledge. Also a reminder that this Saturday, 17th October, we have a special field day into the army grounds at West Melton.
Apparently we had around 30 people at Kaitorete Spit and the weather was kind. Kaitorete is one of those rare places in the world, where a significant part of the precipitation comes from the plants catching moisture out of the sea fog, that so often pushes in over the land. On Saturday, while the fog was there all day it mostly held off and the chill breeze out of the fog on our south was the perfect match for the heat of the sun from the north. It’s a strange place, the spit, one of the few dune systems in NZ not yet dominated by marram and too cold for spinifex, so the only dune builder present is pingao, the golden sand sedge building small tufted dunes. From a distance pingao is rust red but up close deep orange through to yellow – green. Sought after in weaving for it’s natural golden-yellow leaves it is traditionally used in tukutuku and kete for it’s contrasting colour but can also be used on it’s own. Pingao had a scientific name change in 2010 from it’s own genus (Desmoschoenus to a South African genus, Ficinia, so it is now Ficinia spiralis.
I missed the start but found everyone in a council reserve at the end of Hill View Rd, Birdling’s Flat. At this north end of the spit where the beach gravel piles up against the volcanic mass of Banks Peninsula, there is little sand as there has been insufficient time for it to accumulate. The reserve is a fairly weedy site dominated by introduced grasses and sorrel but with some interesting plants all the same. Prostrate shrubs of Coprosma propinqua var prostrata and C. crassifolia and a porcupine shrub Melicytus sp. interwoven with the scrambler Muehlenbeckia complexa. Patches of silver hair grass made a shiny fuzz over the ground in hollows both natural and where a horse had left cavities in the fragile soil. Silver patches of the cushion daisy, Raoulia australis, burnt on the south by salt and intermixed with the orange bumps of Scleranthus uniflorus spread over the stones in hollows and nearer the shore. Two horizontal shrubs are also here, a prostrate broom, Carmichaelia appressa, endemic to the spit, and what for all the world looks like a bundle of dead twigs, the at risk (declining) Muehlenbeckia ephedroides. Problem weeds are a collection of legumes (clovers and vetches) that have the potential to shift the fertility in favour of exotic grasses. There has been an intensive hand-weeding exercise here in recent years removing an array of exotic species from the beach and the contrast with the area to be started on this is year is profound. I can imagine the bach owners won’t be too impressed as they see the vibrant display of South African coastal daisies and succulents get pulled out, but go they must if we are to keep the unique values of Kaitorete Spit intact.
After lunch we drove out onto the spit, through the locked gate (Brian had a key) and out into the Scientific Reserve. Highlights for me were just being amongst so much pingao again, the native succulent, Crassula sieberiana, a native daphne in the sand hollows, Pimelea prostrata and a few very rare woolly heads, not flowering and not yet described scientifically it goes by a tag name denoting its restriction to the spit – Craspedia ‘Kaitorete’. There was also a native bedstraw Galium propinquum very similar to the form restricted to limestone talus, G. ‘calcicole’, and as it turned out some botanists think this one may also be another species in need of description and a proper name.
Back tracking for a start we then drove out on the north side to the Waihora Scientific Reserve on the Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) side of the spit. Here there are dryland plants on ground which is mostly dry and baked (facing north) but when the lake is high can be underwater. Between the dryland and the lake a thick band of the divaricate shrub, coastal ribbonwood, which grows in the saline soils alongside coastal waterways was quietly flowering. More orange cushions but this time a completely different plant, Colobanthus brevisepalous, with the sweet scent of flowering Raoulia monroi, another mat daisy and hundreds of diminutive plants of Daucus glochidiatus, a rare native carrot (obviously not rare here).