Jetboat botany

I was recently fortunate to be jetboated up the Whanganui River to collect plants. I hadn’t been in a jetboat before, but more significant than the fun of that novelty, it was a wonderful opportunity to get into an area whose botany has been little studied.

Heading up the Whanganui River in the Department of Conservation’s jetboat. Photo: Leon Perrie.

Heading up the Whanganui River in the Department of Conservation’s jetboat. Photo: Leon Perrie.

The Department of Conservation’s Amy Hawcroft knew we were in the region for the annual Bryophyte and Lichen Workshop (held this year in Ohakune), and arranged a jetboat trip on the Whanganui River for a small group: Landcare Research’s Allan Fife (collecting mosses) and David Glenny (liverworts), and Te Papa’s Patrick Brownsey (mosses) and me (ferns).

Blog post on the 2013 Bryophyte and Lichen Workshop.

Thick vegetation lines much of the river. Photo: Leon Perrie.

Thick vegetation lines much of the river. Photo: Leon Perrie.

The inland Taranaki/Whanganui area is abysmally represented in the nation’s botanical collections. We have noticed that it shows as a ‘gap’ in maps for numerous species that we know or expect to be present.

Blog post on our Forgotten Highway collecting, where we were working a little to the north.

Te Papa held no specimens of the tree fern wheki, Dicksonia squarrosa, from inland Taranaki/Whanganui. Yet, this species is abundant in the area. We collected a specimen of wheki, so we’ll be adding a dot to the map for this species, and for many other species of ferns, mosses, and liverworts.

Te Papa held no specimens of the tree fern wheki, Dicksonia squarrosa, from inland Taranaki/Whanganui. Yet, this species is abundant in the area. We collected a specimen of wheki, so we’ll be adding a dot to the map for this species, and for many other species of ferns, mosses, and liverworts.

Te Papa page on recognising New Zealand’s tree ferns, including wheki.

In part, the poor representation is a reflection of access difficulties, with few roads (which is why DOC has a jetboat to transport its staff around the area). This trip was a chance for us to explore, while DOC got expert input on the plants of the area. This is particularly relevant for the mosses and liverworts, since few people know them well. Who knew what we would find?!

This stretch of the Whanganui River is quite incised, with high walls. However, the river level rises considerably when in flood. Photo Leon Perrie.

This stretch of the Whanganui River is quite incised, with high walls. However, the river level rises considerably when in flood. Photo Leon Perrie.

We met Amy and Eru Te Huia, our driver/pilot, at Pipiriki. After a safety briefing and karakia from Eru who works for DOC and comes from Whanganui iwi, we were on the boat north, and made several stops during the day. We were fortunate the rain kept away, as collecting mosses and liverworts when it is wet is very difficult – hand lenses fog up and the paper storage packets fall apart.

During the day, I collected specimens of 36 different fern species. Most were of common, widespread species. But Amy did show me a population of Lindsaea viridis, which I’ve not seen very often.

Lindsaea viridis is a relatively uncommon fern that is usually found alongside waterways. Photo Leon Perrie.

Lindsaea viridis is a relatively uncommon fern that is usually found alongside waterways. Photo Leon Perrie.

Te Papa’s collections of Lindsaea viridis.

We also saw plants of Tmesipteris lanceolata and Trichomanes elongatum. These are common ferns in the northern North Island, but very uncommon so far south. However, we saw so few individuals of those two species that we decided not to collect specimens, and instead I recorded their presence on the NatureWatch website. It’s now a challenge for Amy and others to find bigger populations of these two species so that their presence can be more robustly documented through collecting a specimen.

Te Papa’s collections of Tmesipteris lanceolata and Trichomanes elongatum.

My NatureWatch observations for our Whanganui River trip.

Institutional collaboration. Landcare Research’s David Glenny gives me a lift to collect a frond from a Cyathea cunninghamii tree fern, with the Department of Conservation’s Amy Hawcroft. Thanks to DOC’s Eru Te Huia for the camera work.

Institutional collaboration. Landcare Research’s David Glenny gives me a lift to collect a frond from a Cyathea cunninghamii tree fern, with the Department of Conservation’s Amy Hawcroft. Thanks to DOC’s Eru Te Huia for the camera work.

Although most of the specimens I collected were of common fern species, it was great to get this base-line documentation done. It means future efforts can focus on finding and documenting rarer and, in that sense, more interesting species.

It will take longer for Pat, Allan, and David to determine what species they collected during the day. This is because many bryophytes need to be examined under a microscope to work out what they are.

In due course, everything we collected will be listed on the websites of Te Papa and Landcare Research, and in the New Zealand Virtual Herbarium, while the specimens themselves will be available to researchers who want to examine them further.

Many thanks to the Department of Conservation’s Amy Hawcroft and Eru Te Huia for a very productive and interesting day.

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