Tramping in New Zealand forests can be an enjoyable and very relaxing activity. However, if your legs are hairy, it could be a painful and very annoying experience. Camouflaged among ferns and ground orchids, hook grasses are waiting, ready to clasp to the hairs or clothing of any unwary tramper.
Hook grasses get their name from a hook-like structure which arises from the base of the ovary of each female flower.
This structure allows dispersal of the achene, a single seed produced by each female flower, to other sites by clasping to the hairs, or feathers, of any animal (or hairy tramper) passing by.
Flowers in Uncinia are unisexual, that is male and female reproductive structures are on separate flowers. In Uncinia, female flowers are at the base of the spike while male flowers are at the top.
Only female flowers have a hook. Male flowers are small and have three stamens, which quickly fall off after the pollen is released.
New Zealand is the diversity hotspot for Uncinia, however, little is known about their ecology and the actual number of species is still uncertain. Some species are so variable that it is possible they may consist of two or more species.
As part of my work in Te Papa I have investigated a group of morphologically variable Uncinia. The main goals of my study were to understand the cause(s) of this variability and to produce revised descriptions for these species to make their identification easier.