The hunt for the smallest forget-me-not in the world

Spring is in the air, and for botanists like myself that means it’s time to head out into the field to try to find and collect plant specimens for our research. This year, like last year, I will be going to specific places around the country to look for different species of native New Zealand forget-me-nots.  Last year I collected this forget-me-not in coastal Taranaki:

Myosotis petiolata var. pansa from the northern Taranaki coast, which we found and collected in Dec 2010 for my taxonomic research on New Zealand forget-me-nots. Photo by Heidi Meudt, copyright Te Papa.

Myosotis petiolata var. pansa from the northern Taranaki coast, which we found and collected in Dec 2010 for my taxonomic research on New Zealand forget-me-nots. Photo by Heidi Meudt, copyright Te Papa.

The first week of October, Jessie Prebble and I returned to coastal Taranaki on our first foray of the field season. We knew from studying previous collections from Te Papa’s herbarium and other New Zealand herbaria that we should find at least two other species there: Myosotis brevis and Myosotis pygmaea.

We planned to visit about eight different sites over two days. Because both species are very small in size, we spent a lot of time at each site searching on hands and knees trying to find them. But I don’t think we realized just how small they are until we finally found Myosotis brevis at the third site we visited. Check it out: the entire plant can fit on your fingernail!

How many forget-me-nots can you see in this photo? Myosotis brevis from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Heidi Meudt, © Te Papa.

How many forget-me-nots can you see in this photo? Myosotis brevis from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Heidi Meudt, © Te Papa.

Close-up of two Myosotis brevis plants showing green-leaved and brown-leaved forms from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Jessie Prebble, © Te Papa.

Close-up of two Myosotis brevis plants showing green-leaved and brown-leaved forms from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Jessie Prebble, © Te Papa.

At another site we found Myosotis pygmaea, which although still small, seemed like a giant compared to M. brevis!

Myosotis pygmaea from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Jessie Prebble, © Te Papa.

Myosotis pygmaea from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Jessie Prebble, © Te Papa.

And here is a close-up:

Close-up of Myosotis pygmaea from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Heidi Meudt, © Te Papa.

Close-up of Myosotis pygmaea from coastal Taranaki, Oct 2011. Photo by Heidi Meudt, © Te Papa.

Collaboration was instrumental in finding these plants.  So far, we’ve been fortunate that private landowners and iwi have allowed access to most sites we want to visit, and that other colleagues, local enthusiasts and Department of Conservation staff were willing to share their knowledge and accompany us on our plant hunt.

Our plant-hunting crew, finding Myosotis brevis on the Taranaki coast, North Island, New Zealand. Photo by Heidi Meudt, copyright Te Papa.

Our plant-hunting crew, finding Myosotis brevis on the Taranaki coast, North Island, New Zealand. Photo by Heidi Meudt, copyright Te Papa.

Since our Taranaki trip, we’ve also found Myosotis brevis at two other North Island locations in November: near Cape Palliser (Wairarapa), and also Te Ikaamaru Bay (see Phil Garnock-Jones’ blog about that trip). But I hope I’m not giving you the impression that forget-me-nots are easy to find! Our experience so far shows that, on average we’re finding Myosotis in only about half of the known sites where it’s been collected before.

This field work is an important first step to gather the necessary samples to perform genetic and morphological analyses on native forget-me-nots. Continued collaboration and information-sharing will be essential to update the taxonomy and conservation strategies of these plants.

4 Responses

  1. Shabana

    Hi Heidi,

    Love that last picture! There were probably many green spots in that area and your crew was staring down at this small spot! What amazingly tiny plants!

    Best,
    Shabana

    Reply
  2. Simon of Wellington

    I love these Myosotis. Beautiful work. Hortensa grows well in my garden. Thanks….

    Reply
  3. Carol of the North

    Really cool stuff Heidi. I will forget you not.
    Carol

    Reply
  4. Peter J. de Lange

    Hi Heidi

    Great to see all this research into Myosotis happening at long last. Yes Myosotis brevis is very small indeed.

    Well done people – keep up all the hard work!

    Peter J. de Lange

    Reply

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