Posts written by Lara Shepherd

Poor Knights lily: a stunning, yet undervalued, New Zealand native plant

Poor Knight’s lilies in a garden next to the Welsh Dragon Bar, bordered by Wakefield and Kent Terraces. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd

Something spectacular is happening around Wellington – Poor Knights lilies (Raupo taranga; Xeronema callistemon) are bursting into flower! In contrast to the tiny inconspicuous white flowers typical of many New Zealand endemic plants, Poor Knights lilies have bright red flower spikes that look a little like bottlebrushes. But despite these flamboyant displays Poor Knight’s lilies… Read more »

Making sense of snarge

Snarge identified as long tailed skua. Photo by Alan Tennyson.

Birds can cause serious damage to aircraft. A recent example is the 2009 US Airways flight that hit a flock of Canada geese on take-off and had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River. In this case no one was seriously injured but there are many examples of fatalities caused by bird strikes…. Read more »

New Zealand plants abroad part 2: the troublemakers.

Cordyline australis on the Munro Trail, Lanai Island, Hawaii. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr (http://www.starrenvironmental.com/)

My previous blog featured New Zealand native plants that are cultivated overseas. However, some of our native plants, including many of the species I recently saw in UK gardens, have gone ‘rogue’ and are considered invasive species in some countries. For example our pohutukawa (New Zealand Christmas tree; Metrosideros excelsa) is invading parts of South… Read more »

New Zealand plants abroad.

  • Kohukohu (Pittosporum tenuifolium) in a front garden in Bristol, UK. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.
  • A broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) hedge by a row of terrace houses, Bristol, UK. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.
  • Flaxes (Phormium tenax), hebes and kohukohu in a suburban garden in Bristol, UK. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.
  • White flowered hebe in a town planting in the Bristol town centre. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.

New Zealand plants have a long history of cultivation overseas. In the UK one of the most well known New Zealand plants is the ‘Torquay palm’, which we know as the cabbage tree (Cordyline australis). Cabbage trees, which botanically-speaking are not palms, were first grown in the UK in the early nineteenth century. This species… Read more »

Ferns of Bristol’s stone walls

  • Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.
  • Common polypody (Polypodium vulgare). Photo credit: Lara Shepherd.
  • Two forms of wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria). The plant on the right reminds me of New Zealand blanket fern. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd
  • The sori of Asplenium scolopendrium, said to look like centipede legs. Photo credit: Lara Shepherd

Whilst recently holidaying in Bristol in the UK I was amazed at the abundance and variety of ferns growing on the stone walls around the city.  The spleenwort or Asplenium ferns seem to be the most common ferns of this habitat. This genus also occurs in New Zealand and includes our hen and chickens fern. … Read more »

Behind the scenes: A week in the life of a natural history curator

  • A wing being prepared by Catherine for incorporation into the collection.
  • Alan with a shearwater skeleton prepared by Catherine.
  • Alan looking through Te Papa's prion skin collection.
  • Alan and Trish looking at birds eggs in Te Papa's collection. Te Papa has recently improved their storage method of these fragile items.

What does a Te Papa curator do? I spent last week following Te Papa’s terrestrial vertebrate curator Alan Tennyson to find out. Here are some of the main highlights:  Visitors Monday saw Alan meet with Trish Nugent-Lyne, a collection manager at Whanganui Regional Museum. Te Papa staff are helping Trish prepare an articulated dog skeleton… Read more »

How to DNA sex birds.

Sex chromosomes in birds and mammals.

The males and females of many bird species are difficult to distinguish by their appearance (peacocks are a notable exception). There are many situations where it is useful to know the sex of birds including captive breeding programmes, behavioural studies and even species delimitation in extinct taxa. DNA sexing provides a simple and quick way… Read more »

A few more botanical highlights from the Foxton fieldtrip….and a katipo spider!

  • Taking a break from botanizing Viv McGlynn managed to locate this female Katipo spider under a piece of driftwood in the dunes.
  • Sand coprosma (Coprosma acerosa). The fruit colour of this species can vary but the plants we saw in the dunes near Foxton had striking blue fruit.
  • The keen eyes of Bot Soc member Bev Abbott spotted the tiny fruit of sand gunnera (Gunnera arenaria).
  • The distinctive asymmetric flower of Selliera rotundifolia.

I also spent an enjoyable few days over Easter on the Wellington Botanical Society fieldtrip (see Leon’s blog about the trip). Here are a few more photos from the trip. It is difficult to believe that this tiny native species is in the same genus as the huge Chilean rhubarb. The leaves of this weedy… Read more »