Bush-bashing and bogs: Botanical hunting in the North Island

Bush-bashing and bogs: Botanical hunting in the North Island

In December 2017, Te Papa Botanist Heidi Meudt was on the hunt for some uncommon forget-me-nots in two very special places in the central North Island.

A particular highlight of this field work was the collaboration with local landowners, iwi, the Department of Conservation (DOC), and other botanists. 

Our awesome team at camp on the Reporoa Bog! Kerry, Jessie, Adell and Heidi. Photo by Kerry Ford @ Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.
The team at camp on the Reporoa Bog (left to right) Kerry Ford, Jessie Prebble, Adell Gilchrist, and Heidi Meudt. Photo by Kerry Ford. Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium

Using previous collections to plan field work

We often use records of previous collections as a guide as to where to perform botanical field work.

This is particularly important for our native New Zealand forget-me-nots (genus: Myosotis, family: Borginaceae), because many are only found in specific areas and habitats.

We aim to make as many new collections from as many different areas and forget-me-not species as possible, so we can include these samples in our ongoing taxonomic research.

Using Te Papa’s Collections Online, as well as databases from herbaria at other institutions, we identified the central North Island as an important place to perform field work to fill a geographic gap in our collections for several forget-me-nots.

Myosotis australis habitat on the Kaweka Range tops. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106550.
Myosotis australis habitat on the Kaweka Range tops. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106550)

In early December 2017, I teamed up with Jessie Prebble from Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium to collect Myosotis australis for my research, and native harebells (genus: Wahlenbergia) for Jessie’s. (Jessie is also really good at finding forget-me-nots, since she studied them for her PhD research!)

Jessie Prebble with a native harebell (Wahlenbergia), Kaweka Forest Park. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Jessie Prebble with a native harebell (Wahlenbergia pygmaea subsp. pygmaea), Kaweka Forest Park. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Closeup of one of our native harebells, Wahlenbergia, from the Kaweka Range. Photo by Jessie Prebble @ Manaaki Whenua - Allan Herbarium. CHR.
Closeup of one of our native harebells, Wahlenbergia pygmaea subsp. pygmaea, from the Kaweka Range. Photo by Jessie Prebble. Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium. CHR

Myosotis australis occurs throughout the South Island but it is known on the North Island only from two nearby sites – the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges. The last time it had been collected on the North Island at either of these sites was in 1985 by legendary New Zealand field botanist Tony Druce.

Bittersweet find in the Kaweka Ranges

After consulting with DOC and much planning, Jessie and I donned our backpacks and headed into the backcountry of Kaweka Forest Park.

Jessie Prebble on a beautiful but cold morning tramp along the main ridge of the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Jessie Prebble on a beautiful but cold morning tramp along the main ridge of the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Selfie of two happy botanists who made it to the highest point in the Kaweka Ranges, "Kaweka J", at 1724 m. Photo by Jessie Prebble @ Manaaki Whenua - Allan Herbarium.
Selfie of two happy botanists who made it to the highest point in the Kaweka Ranges, “Kaweka J”, at 1724 m. Photo by Jessie Prebble. Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium
Heidi collecting in the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Jessie Prebble @ Manaaki Whenua - Allan Herbarium.
Heidi collecting in the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Jessie Prebble. Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium

We made a bee-line for Cooks Horn (one of the precise localities where Druce had collected M. australis back in 1974). Little did we know that to get there would require us to bush bash through a dense forest of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), a hardy invasive tree originally from North America that was planted in the 1950s and ’60s in experimental trials in the Kawekas and is now a massive conservation problem.

Pinus contorta along the top ridge of the Kaweka Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Pinus contorta along the top ridge of the Kaweka Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

The good news is that we (re-)found Myosotis australis hanging on to steep slopes at Cooks Horn and at a few other sites nearby.

But the bad news is the few forget-me-nots were completely outnumbered by the “wilding pines”, which may be negatively affecting native biodiversity including these forget-me-nots. Let’s hope the efforts of DOC and others to control Pinus contorta are successful.

The Myosotis australis collection site at Cooks Horn (large stone outcrop), Kaweka Ranges. Note the numerous plants of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) surrounding the site, as well as one menacing shadow of another pine creeping over the forget-me-not habitat. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106550.
The Myosotis australis collection site at Cooks Horn (large stone outcrop), Kaweka Ranges. Note the numerous plants of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) surrounding the site, as well as one menacing shadow of another pine creeping over the forget-me-not habitat. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106550)
Which plant will survive? The tiny native Myosotis australis (near the lens cap) or the looming invasive giant (Pinus contorta)? Photo at Cooks Horn, Kaweka Ranges by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106550.
Which plant will survive? The tiny native Myosotis australis (near the lens cap) or the looming invasive giant (Pinus contorta)? Photo at Cooks Horn, Kaweka Ranges by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106550)
Jessie found Myosotis australis along the track in the Kaweka Ranges! Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106557.
Jessie found Myosotis australis along the track in the Kaweka Ranges! Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106557)
Myosotis australis from the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106557.
Myosotis australis from the Kaweka Ranges. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106557)

Rewarding local collaboration at Reporoa bog

View of Reporoa bog from the bluffs containing Myosotis eximia (WELT SP106560). Should we be worried about those pines in the background advancing into the bog? Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
View of Reporoa bog from the bluffs containing Myosotis eximia (SP106560). Should we be worried about those Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in the background potentially advancing into the bog? Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

Reporoa bog is another special place in central North Island which is home to several interesting plants, including two uncommon forget-me-nots. Reporoa bog is on private land with a boundary running right through it between Mangaohane Station and Awarua Aorangi Trust land.

Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

Both landowners generously allowed Jessie, Kerry Ford (Jessie’s Manaaki Whenua colleague), and myself access to perform field work there, and we were also fortunate to have Adell Gilchrist from Awarua Aorangi Trust along with us.

Our camp in the red tussock fields near Reporoa Bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Our camp in the red tussock fields near Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

Arriving at Reporoa bog was both exciting and daunting. Exciting, because we were the latest botanical pilgrims here, following in the footsteps of Tony Druce and several other botanists who have made intriguing collections in the bog in the past. Daunting, because the bog is large with an uneven topography, and we only had two days. Would we be able to find the proverbial needles in the haystack?

Adell, Jessie and Kerry heading off to start field work at Reporoa Bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Adell, Jessie and Kerry heading off to start field work at Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Jessie walking by some of the interesting rock formations surrounding Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Jessie walking by some of the interesting rock formations surrounding Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

That we were successful was a combination of thorough planning and great team work. We were delighted to find Myosotis eximia in full flower, clinging to the weedy, rocky bluffs surrounding the bog.

Myosotis eximia from the bluffs near Reporoa bog in full flower. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106560.
Myosotis eximia from the bluffs near Reporoa bog in full flower. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106560)
Close up of the leaves of Myosoti eximia. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106563.
Close up of the leaves of Myosoti eximia. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106563)
Plants of Myosotis eximia clinging to the rocks and cliffs surrounding Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106563.
Plants of Myosotis eximia clinging to the rocks and cliffs surrounding Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106563)
Habitat of Myosotis eximia near Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te papa. WELT SP106563.
Habitat of Myosotis eximia near Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106563)

We were also thrilled when we discovered the delicate plants of Myosotis tenericaulis hidden underneath the “skirts” of the red tussock found only along stream channels with flowing water.

Jessie showing where another plant of Myosotis tenericaulis is hiding in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106558.
Jessie showing where another plant of Myosotis tenericaulis is hiding amongst grasses along the banks of a small stream in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106558)
The delicate plants of Myosotis tenericaulis in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106558.
The delicate plants of Myosotis tenericaulis in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106558)
Jessie surveying one of the streams where Myosotis tenericaulis is found in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106558.
Jessie surveying one of the streams where Myosotis tenericaulis is found in Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106558)

For both species, in addition to collecting new specimens and samples, we counted, georeferenced, and photographed the plants, gathering important new data for these naturally uncommon species that will be useful for their taxonomy and conservation. We also made several other collections of other species for our various ongoing research projects.

Kerry finding some interesting grasses and sedges to collect whilst taking shelter from the rain under this overhang on a scarf near Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. WELT SP106551 & SP106567.
Kerry finding some interesting grasses and sedges to collect whilst taking shelter from the rain under this overhang on a scarp near Reporoa bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106551 & SP106567)
Kerry Ford photographing an interesting sedge in the bog. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Kerry Ford photographing an interesting sedge (Carex secta) in the bog. Kerry found and collected several grasses, sedges and woolyheads (genus: Craspedia, family: Asteraceae) for her research projects. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Sedges are beautiful too! Close up photo of one of the sedges collected by Kerry Ford, Carex dipsacea, from Reporoa bog, which is the type locality of C. tohoata, presently treated as a synonym of (=not different from) C. dipsacea. These plants were growing together with another sedge, Carex secta, along streams in the bog. Photo by Kerry Ford @ Manaaki Whenua - Allan Herbarium. CHR 489446.
Sedges are beautiful too! Close up photo of one of the sedges collected by Kerry Ford, Carex dipsacea, from Reporoa bog, which is the type locality of C. tahoata, presently treated as a synonym of (=not different from) C. dipsacea. These plants were growing together with another sedge, Carex secta, along streams in the bog. Photo by Kerry Ford, Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium (CHR 489446)

During our two nights camping near the bog, we learned from Adell the importance of this land and its flora and fauna to Awarua Aorangi, and some of the conservation projects they are involved in. We exchanged ideas and knowledge about botany, research, conservation, natural history, and cultural history, and made several connections.

Adell, Heidi and Jessie discussing plans for the day at camp in Reporoa bog. Photo by Kerry Ford @ Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.
Adell, Heidi and Jessie discussing plans for the day at camp in Reporoa bog. Photo by Kerry Ford, Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium

For example, we learned about Mt Aorangi, the beautiful maunga of Awarua Aorangi, which lies several kilometres to the southwest of Reporoa bog and is ringed by cliffs.

Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs, with Mt Aorangi in the background. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs, with Mt Aorangi in the background. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

During our conversations, we discovered that Mt Aorangi is also important botanically. In 1914, botanist Bernard Aston collected the type specimen of Myosotis eximia there, as well as several other plants.

Type specimen of Myosotis eximia collected by Aston in 1914 from Mt Aorangi. WELT SP002420/A.
Type specimen of Myosotis eximia collected by Aston in 1914 from Mt Aorangi. (SP002420/A)

Our time together on the bog shows the importance of researchers teaming up with DOC, landowners, and iwi during biological field work. In our case, it was a win-win-win situation for the scientists, locals, and the plants themselves.

Following on from the field work, the same digital resources we used to plan our scientific field work can also be powerful learning tools for landowners and iwi to learn what native and invasive organisms have been collected on their land.

This data can then be used to enhance local conservation projects, develop educational resources and programmes, or assist with contributing new observations, photos and other data to citizen science sites such as NatureWatch.

Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Reporoa bog, as seen from the western bluffs. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

I am very grateful to the following organisations and people for allowing access to these sites: Awarua Aorangi Trust (especially Adell Gilchrist and Tama Wipaki), Mangaohane Station (especially Emmett Thurston-Parris and Arthur Young), and the Department of Conservation.

I would also like to thank Jessie Prebble, Kerry Ford, and Adell Gilchrist for joining me in the field, and John Barkla, Colin Ogle, Graeme LaCock, Geoff Rogers, and Viv McGlynn (all former or current staff at DOC) for help planning this trip.

6 Comments

  1. All of our native plants are beautiful, but these are especially delightful! Nice work.

    1. Author

      Thanks Denise! I agree. 🙂

  2. Thanks, very interesting to hear about.

    1. Author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Olwen!

  3. Tks for going to somewhere I would like to go but cannot. The article and photographs were both fab! Your research is very valued.

    1. Author

      Thanks Ted. I’ve been wanting to go to the Reporoa bog for many years, and was stoked that it finally came together last year. The Kawekas was also a bonus. 🙂 I really appreciate your kind comments about the blog, and especially that our scientific research on native NZ plants is valued. That means a lot! Thank you.

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