Te Papa botanical research at Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Te Papa botanical research at Otari-Wilton’s Bush

For many years, Te Papa botanists have included Otari-Wilton’s Bush collections in their research.

Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton’s Bush Reserve is a special place in Wellington it’s “the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants”. This makes it an important educational and research resource for the city’s inhabitants.

Bench in Otari Botanic Garden surrounded by Veronica chathamica, which is one of the collections we made. SP103984. Photo by Phil Garnock-Jones. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/1478571.
Bench in Otari Botanic Garden surrounded by Veronica chathamica, which is one of the collections we made. SP103984. Photo by Phil Garnock-Jones. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/1478571.

Over two days in March 2015, fellow Botany Researcher Phil Garnock-Jones and I made 61 collections and images of many different species of hebe (Veronica) growing there.

These collections are now part of our botany research collection at Te Papa’s herbarium, which contains over 285,000 specimens.

Veronica baylyi, originally from Dun Mountain, Nelson and growing in the Otari Botanic Garden, SP103983. This species was named after Mike Bayly who was a former Te Papa Research Scientist and published extensively on hebes, including the book “An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand hebes”. Photo by Phil Garnock-Jones. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/1478568

Our recent Veronica collections make up a only small percentage of the more than 700 botanical specimens that have been collected by Te Papa botanists in Otari since the 1930s.

Interestingly, most of these have been collected by only six people -Peter Beveridge, Patrick Brownsey, Bruce Hamlin, Leon Perrie, Barbara Polly, and Barry Sneddon – all of whom are in the “Te Papa Botany Collectors Hall of Fame” for having contributed more than 2,000 total specimens to the herbarium to date.

Just what have these Te Papa botanists been collecting at Otari?

Close up of Veronica colostylis flowers, cultivated at Otari-Wilton’s Bush, originally from the Rob Roy Glacier, SP103966. Photo by Phil Garnock-Jones. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/1476871
  • Ferns: Leon Perrie (Te Papa Curator of Botany), Patrick Brownsey (Te Papa Research Scientist) and Barry Sneddon (former Te Papa Botany Collection Manager) have together contributed 90 fern records. Leon has blogged about his Otari collections, and given talks there on fern identification.
False hen & chickens fern, Asplenium x lucrosum, growing at Otari, P020583/A. Photo by Leon Perrie © Te Papa. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/652932

And let’s not forget about the little plants!

  • Lichens: Over 200 lichen records, mostly collected by Te Papa Research Associate Barbara Polly.
  • Liverworts: 45 liverwort records, most of which were collected by Bruce Hamlin (1929-1976), former Curator of Botany at the National Museum of New Zealand.
  • Mosses: 42 moss records, the majority collected by Te Papa Research Associate Peter Beveridge.
Photo of a type specimen of the lichen Fuscopannaria crustata, collected at Otari Hill in Nov 1872, L006506. Photo © Te Papa. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/574569

How do these collections contribute to our research?

Simply put, we are able to easily access fresh material of individuals of certain native species, some of which are only found in inaccessible or distant places (such as Kermadec Island ferns). At Otari, we can image, measure, compare, observe, collect, count chromosomes of, and extract DNA from their collections (with permission, of course!).

Otari also offers a venue for us to interact with and educate the public about our research through talks and guided walks.

Although Te Papa’s 700+ from Otari are somewhat skewed towards our research interests, they nevertheless amount to over 400 species and are thus representative of what is currently growing in Otari. In the Otari Bioblitz of 2007, nearly 500 different plant species were found (pdf) at the Botanic Garden and surrounding Wilton’s Bush. Te Papa botanists were enthusiastic participants in that Bioblitz, and indeed several specimens were added to our collections as a result.

And plants are not the only things living at Otari…

Te Papa also holds several thousand land snails from Otari, comprising 767 databased lots representing 58 species–nine of which are undescribed–and some of which are on Collections Online. With continued research, databasing and digitising of Te Papa’s collections, additional records from Otari will likely be uncovered and available online in the future.

This land snail, Cytora kamura, was collected in Queen Charlotte Sound (M.179672) but is also known from Otari Wilton’s Bush. Photo © Te Papa. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/687810

Thanks to Wellington City Council and the folks at Otari-Wilton’s Bush for their continued support and collaboration.

Related websites:

Te Papa Botany Research

Te Papa blogs on Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Te Papa blogs on Veronica

Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton’s Bush Reserve – website


  1. Nowhere do you mention most of the Hebes at Otari were collected by my father Walter Brockie in the 1940s and 1950s

    1. Hi Bob, Thanks for your comment. You are right, I didn’t mention any of the important people who made the original collections of the plants at Otari. Walter Brockie was certainly one of the most important people in Otari’s history, because he played a central role in collecting many of the plants as well as setting up the gardens. Those of us currently using Otari plants in our botanical research are very grateful to him and all the other collectors (past and present) of original, wild material to stock the gardens. Otari maintains a database of information about where and by whom many of its plants were originally collected, and I am sure Walter Brockie’s legacy is reflected there.

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