In December 2014, three Te Papa Science Staff embarked on an 11 day field trip from Otago to North Canterbury. Heidi Meudt – Botany Researcher, Phil Garnock-Jones – Botany Researcher and Antony Kusabs – Collection Manager Sciences collected specimens, images and DNA samples of native forget-me-nots (Myosotis) and New Zealand hebes (Veronica).
11 days, over 3000 km travelled and 114 specimens collected, including 19 forget-me-nots and 29 hebes… How did we do this? What were our days like? Here is a short diary of our trip with some photos of us, in our preferred habitat.
Ready? Let’s get this field trip started!
Day 1 – A looooong travel day to Central Otago.
Day 2 – Old Man Range. The first day of field work! We are excited to get out there. We meet up with conservation biologist and fellow forget-me-not enthusiast Mike Thorsen, who will join us for the next few days as we botanise in Central Otago. We drive the 4WD up to the tops of the range, meet up with one of the local farmers who is interested in our work, and make our first scientific collections of the trip.
Days 3 and 4 – Dunstan Range. We have the privilege of spending not one but TWO full days in the southern part of this range. It is stunning high country, and we have good luck finding the forget-me-nots and hebes too. So far we are spending about 10-12 hours a day in the field, and then (after showers and preparing and eating dinner!) another 2 hours processing our samples in the evenings, and planning the next day’s adventure.
Day 5 – Hector Range. This is off the beaten track. Ant, Mike and I have to rely on our own legs to get us up and back down the mountain today–in all, a massive 12 hour tramp carrying all our gear, lunch and water in our packs. The lovely folks at Loch Linnhe Station near Lake Wakatipu generously allow us access to the tops to botanise, and the scenery is stunning. By the end, we are knackered, and even worse: we don’t the forget-me-not we are looking for (M. glabrescens, which has been collected there before)… But Phil comes to our rescue when we get back to our accommodation around 10 pm, waiting up for us with a lovely homecooked dinner.
Day 6 – Travel day. We sadly say haere ra to Central Otago and also to Mike, and drive north, towards Canterbury. On the way we find some interesting weeds. To be honest it is good to give our legs a rest today, because tomorrow is another big tramp.
Day 7 – Mt Torlesse. Today’s goal: Find the forget-me-nots at the top (1961 m above sea level). The day starts out well: we find Myosotis australis and two species of Veronica in the valley. Ant stays behind to collect those while Phil and I start the big ascent. At the top (we finally make it!) we find a few individuals of Myosotis traversii and Veronica, but not much else. It’s quite barren up there, and for us botanists, pretty disappointing. We’re still smiling though.
Day 8 – Mt Potts. This time Phil stays behind to catch up on some photography, while Ant and I walk up the old 4WD track to the ski field area. Near the tops, we find a beautiful tarn and make collections of an intriguing forget-me-not growing in a mountain stream and a cushion snow hebe (Veronica pulvinaris). Before returning home, we stop to make some quick collections of Myosotis uniflora, a cushion species from Canterbury river plains, before the sun goes down. After dinner (thanks Phil!) and specimen processing, another long but successful day comes to an end.
Day 9 – Craigieburns. In the morning we collect from another Myosotis uniflora site along the Waimakariri River before heading to Broken River Ski Field. Even though we scour the scree and rocky cliffs–all potentially good habitat–we do not find any forget-me-nots there. After a few other brief stops, in the late afternoon we drive to our last stop, Hanmer Springs.
Day 10 – Mt St Patrick, Hanmer/Amuri Ski Field. We drive up to the ski field buildings early, and quickly find two (or maybe three?) species of forget-me-nots, not to mention hebes and a lot of other really cool alpine plants. It is our last day, and we are in botanical heaven. For the first time in the past 10 days, it starts raining by mid-afternoon, so we pack it in early and head to the hot springs to give our aching muscles and sore feet a well-deserved soak…
Day 11 – Three tired but happy botanists pack up and head back to Wellington, with plant presses full of specimens and bags full of samples. Back at Te Papa, it takes several days to database, mount and store our specimens in the herbarium; most are now available on Collections Online. I am currently studying the morphology of the forget-me-nots we collected, and Phil is adding the photos he took of Veronica to the New Zealand eFlora treatment he is working on. And soon we will start thinking about our next field trip…
Thanks to the Department of Conservation and landowners who supported us and helped make our field work possible.