Botanical Society Field Day to the Whitecliffs area

red tussock covenant high resA grey and damp day in the hills behind Glentunnel was a welcome break from the hot and dry conditions down on the plains. First stop was a red tussock, (Chionochloa rubra) wetland, recently protected with a QEII Covenant. Our task was to add to the species list and while we seemed to mostly be adding weeds, there were some good native finds as well. I seemed to spend a lot of time talking and not so much looking at plants and taking photos.

Red tussock is often associated with wetlands but it isn’t confined to sites with poor drainage. Red tussock is a plant that can capitalise on tough growing conditions (impeded drainage, low fertility, severe frosts, periodic fires), but red tussock doesn’t need tough conditions and will grow just as well in moist free draining soil.  However in nature  it just won’t last, because other plants will eventually crowd it out.

Like you might expect sedges and rushes were features of the wetland. Carex solandri and Carex coriacea were the main sedges as well as some Carex secta and Carex tenuiculmis. C. tenuiculmis is now a threatened species and is a feature of damp frost hollow vegetation and like red tussock tolerates low fertility. Frost hollows, with their natural grasslands were the first areas grazed and cleared. More recently, drainage, cultivation, fertilisers and over sowing have eliminated this and other rare species from much of the country. Finding C. tenuiculmis here highlights the importance of these remaining pockets of unimproved land for conservation and biodiversity. Wetlands like this also hold a lot of water, releasing it slowly to feed streams through dry periods, and reduce flooding by slowing runoff during rain.

A couple of additions to the list were a yellow lily, Bulbinella angustifolia, and a native buttercup Ranunculus glabrifolius. There are 6 native Bulbinella separated geographically, B. angustifolia covers the Eastern South Island but is replaced in the north by B. hookeri somewhere in North Canterbury. The buttercup is probably often overlooked by the untrained eye and it was interesting to learn that while the name (glabrifolius) means hairless leaves, it always has a few hairs, the very similar R. amphitrichus is the hairless one except that perversely it has a collar of hairs just below the seed head.

There were also some nice dark tussocks of Schoenus pauciflorus and on a bank above the stream, mats of Nertera setulosaN. setulosa is unusual in that it has a dry fruit, the only other NZ plants in the Rubiaceae (dogwood family,doh! madder family 2nd Jan.) with dry fruits are the native bedstraws (Galium).  The other Nertera and Coprosma have two seeded berries, like their popular relative – coffee.

In the galleries scroll down on an image to find the ‘full size’ button if you want more detail.

Lunch was in the wool-shed and Graeme who has lived here for 50 years gave us a rundown on the botanical, geological and historical features of the farm and larger area.


Lunch, for those unfamiliar with an NZ woolshed there is a reason we’re not using the table and the red machine is a woolpress. It packs 2 bales of loose wool into 1 tight bale for transport.


DSCN2362 Just a quick note for the non-kiwis.  The shearer collects sheep from the pen through the saloon doors and having got the fleece off pops the sheep into the rectangular opening where a chute delivers them to holding pens for further tasks, such as treatment for worms and lice, and drafting (sorting) into mobs before going back onto different parts of the farm.  Now you can see why we didn’t use the table.  A rousie picks up the fleece by the hind legs and throws it over the table where leaves and dirty wool are removed before classing and baling.

In the afternoon we made our way up through the bush covenant. Grey scrub, kowhai (Sophora microphylla) and large broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) are dominant with kotukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata), scrambling fuchsia (F. perscandens) and climbing into the trees and scrub quite a few Fuchsia hybrids. Mountain ribbonwood (Hoheria lyallii) were reminders that the farm has a reasonable rainfall and is montane despite being on the edge of the plains.

There were nice patches of native turf under the grey scrub, with violets, a forest daisy (Lagenifera petiolata), a button daisy (Leptinella squalida) and a very small woolly head (Craspedia minor?). Craspedia are a rather diverse complex of rayless daisies that have’ to a large extent’ been lumped into a few catch all species.

Late in the day we gathered on a rock outcrop where the native verbena (Teucridium parvifolium) and Coprosma virescens are clustered on the talus, both are increasingly under threat from grazing pressure and ‘land improvement’, particularly with helicopter herbicide spraying of grey-scrub becoming more common. There were quite a few poataniwha (Melicope simplex) with its heart shaped leaves on hinged petioles and the common broom (Carmichaelia australis) was in full flower.  Three native grasses, Elymus solandri, Rytidosperma gracile? and Koeleria novozelandica were identified by Alice.  Top spotting by the advance party, who found a group of Botrychium biforme? under the Teucridium.

There was a lot more to this interesting property but this is a good taste of the day.



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One Response to Botanical Society Field Day to the Whitecliffs area

  1. Pingback: Perched bog and yellow mistletoe | Between the ocean and the sea

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