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, iwiiwi tribe Māori | Noun | Listen, the Department of Conservation (DOC), and other botanists.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Rewarding local collaboration at Reporoa bog
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.