Searching in needles and haystacks for forget-me-nots

Searching in needles and haystacks for forget-me-nots

In January 2018, Te Papa botanists Heidi Meudt and Antony Kusabs took part in an epic 14-day forget-me-not field work adventure.

During the trip they:

  • made 73 collections from 9 South Island sites for the museum
  • searched both The Needle and The Haystack (literally)
  • solved a plant identification mystery
  • found a plant that hadn’t been collected in almost a century
  • and discovered some pretty effective plant Velcro!
Heidi Meudt taking some close-up photos of a large plant of Myosotis macrantha in the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. Photo by Ant Kusabs @ Te Papa. SP106587
Heidi Meudt taking some close-up photos of a large plant of Myosotis macrantha in the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. Photo by Ant Kusabs. Te Papa

Needles, haystacks, and forget-me-nots

The first three days of the trip were spent in Kahurangi National Park in the Matiri Range.

We were searching for some ‘needles’ (forget-me-nots) in various ‘haystacks’ in such places as Thousand Acre Plateau, Devil’s Dining Table, and (I kid you not) The Needle and The Haystack.

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We were not disappointed after finding no less than five different species of forget-me-nots, including Myosotis traversii and Myosotis australis.

A large plant of Myosotis traversii in the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. The white flowers now gone, the purple calyces hide the ripe nutlets. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106595
A large plant of Myosotis traversii in the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. The white flowers now gone, the purple calyces hide the ripe nutlets. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106595)
Delicate flowers of Myosotis australis from the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106596
Delicate flowers of Myosotis australis from the Matiri Range, Kahurangi National Park. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106596)

A rare find in the Humboldt Mountains

At two other places, we attempted to re-find plants that were previously collected nearly a century ago.

In the Humboldt Mountains, we were ecstatic to successfully re-discover a forget-me-not that was last collected in 1921.

Future studies will determine whether these plants fit within an already described species or whether they are a species new to science.

Glacier Burn Cirque, looking up toward the Humboldt Mountains, Southland. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Glacier Burn Cirque, looking up toward the Humboldt Mountains, Southland. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
What species of Myosotis is this? Now that we have a specimen, we can include it in our studies to find out. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106623
What species of Myosotis is this? Now that we have a specimen, we can include it in our studies to find out. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106623)

An elusive forget-me-not in the Ida Range

In the Ida Range, we weren’t so lucky.

We were searching for Myosotis oreophila, where Donald Petrie collected the type specimen in 1891.

Although we’ve seen it elsewhere, this plant hasn’t been collected at Mt Ida since.

Despite the fact that we had a team of seven experienced field botanists on the day, we didn’t find this species – although we did find two other forget-me-nots there. But the Ida Range is a big place, and it might be worth exploring other areas in a future trip.

Tramping over the tops of the Ida Range, Otago, looking for Myosotis. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Tramping over the tops of the Ida Range, Otago, looking for Myosotis. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
The type specimen of Myosotis oreophila, collected by Donald Petrie at "Mt Ida, near Naseby". SP002393/A
The type specimen of Myosotis oreophila, collected by Donald Petrie at ‘Mt Ida, near Naseby’. (SP002393/A)
Our amazing team of botanists on the day never stopped botanising, not even when eating lunch! Ida Range, Otago. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Our amazing team of botanists on the day never stopped botanising, not even when eating lunch! Ida Range, Otago. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

Solving a botanical mystery

The Eyre Mountains are known to be a botanically interesting place, and we were fortunate to visit one of its more accessible peaks on this trip – Hummock Peak.

Local botanists David Toole, David Lyttle, and Brian Rance had previously found several forget-me-nots there, including what was thought to be the elusive Myosotis glabrescens, a data-deficient species. David Toole took us directly to the same odd plant he photographed several years ago.

I was able to identify this plant, and another nearby population, as Myosotis retrorsa. My colleagues and I recently described this species, but it was the first time I have actually seen it live in the field.

Botanists Brian Rance and Dave Toole arriving at the tarn at Hummock Peak, Southland, and indicating we still have more climbing to do if we want to get to the forget-me-nots... Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Botanists Brian Rance and Dave Toole arriving at the tarn at Hummock Peak, Southland, and indicating we still have more climbing to do if we want to get to the forget-me-nots… Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
The odd tightly compacted cushion plant individual of Myosotis retrorsa that was originally found by Dave Toole near the tarn of Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106618
The odd tightly compacted cushion plant individual of Myosotis retrorsa that was originally found by Dave Toole near the tarn of Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106618)
Leaves from the same compacted cushion plant individual of Myosotis retrorsa showing the distinctive retrorse (backwards-facing) hairs on the back of the leaves (left). Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106618
Leaves from the same compacted cushion plant individual of Myosotis retrorsa showing the distinctive retrorse (backwards-facing) hairs on the back of the leaves (left). Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106618)
Heidi and Ant making their first collection of Myosotis retrorsa on Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Brian Rance, DOC. SP106618
Heidi and Ant making their first collection of Myosotis retrorsa on Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Brian Rance, DOC (SP106618)
Myosotis retrorsa sprouting out of a rock crevice on Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106618
Myosotis retrorsa sprouting out of a rock crevice on Hummock Peak, Eyre Mountains. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106618)

Myosotis lyallii subsp. elderi and M. macrantha were also found on the same peak.

A large plant of Myosotis lyallii subsp. elderi, just past flowering, on Hummock Peak. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106619
A large plant of Myosotis lyallii subsp. elderi, just past flowering, on Hummock Peak. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106619)

New collections for the museum

On this trip, we drove the Te Papa 4WD vehicle a total of 2,880 km, making a total of 73 collections, including 24 of Myosotis which represent 12 different forget-me-not species. We spent many hours a day tramping several kilometres, often up and down rugged mountains, to find and collect these plants.

At some sites we visited, we made what are now Te Papa’s first collections from those sites, including at the botanically rich Awakino ski field, St Marys Range in Canterbury.

We were fortunate to have local botanist Hugh Wood as our guide, whose extensive knowledge is based on over 30 years botanising at the site. Hugh took us from one forget-me-not population to another, such that we were able to collect specimens of four different species of Myosotis, including two whose identity are yet unknown.

Botanising around the wet habitat where we found Myosotis drucei, Awakino ski field, South Canterbury. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106663
Botanising around the wet habitat where we found Myosotis drucei, Awakino ski field, South Canterbury. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106663)
A botanist's dream: Myosotis traversii in full flower on a beautiful blue-sky day on the mountain. Awakino ski field, South Canterbury. Photo by Antony Kusabs @ Te Papa. SP106666
A botanist’s dream: Myosotis traversii in full flower on a beautiful blue-sky day on the mountain. Awakino ski field, South Canterbury. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa (SP106666)
An unknown species of Myosotis that has some similarities to Myosotis cheesemanii, Awakino ski field, South Canterubury. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa. SP106668
An unknown species of Myosotis that has some similarities to Myosotis cheesemanii, Awakino ski field, South Canterbury. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa (SP106668)

Plant Velcro in action

Although we had seen and collected Myosotis traversii at a few other sites on this trip, flowering was mostly over. So it was wonderful to find plants of this species in full flower at Ohau Snow Fields.

While collecting the plant, my cotton string plant tag got completely caught up in the hooked hairs on the calyx and other plant parts, which acted like Velcro. (Incidentally, the original concept of Velcro was based on similar hairs from another plant!).

On one plant, we noticed moth did not fly away when we photographed it because it was caught in the ‘plant Velcro’.

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I stitched together several of Ant's photos of the moth into this GIF to show its unsuccessful efforts to escape the plant Velcro of <em>Myosotis traversii</em> at Ohau Snow Fields. Photos by Antony Kusabs @ Te Papa. SP106676
I stitched together several of Ant’s photos of the moth into this GIF to show its unsuccessful efforts to escape the plant Velcro of Myosotis traversii at Ohau Snow Fields. Photos by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa (SP106676)

What is the function of these hooked hairs? Mike Thorsen and colleagues believe they help the plant disperse its seeds, by attaching to an animal such as a bird.

In a subsequent paper, they argue that such attachment seed dispersal may be common in New Zealand because of the number of small, ground-dwelling birds that have loose plumage (aka ‘Velcro species’, such as weka and kiwi). 

Acknowledgments

This trip would not have been possible without the generosity of landowners, local botanists, and Department of Conservation staff who allowed access and accompanied us during this trip, including Jessie Prebble (Manaaki Whenua – Allan Herbarium), John Barkla & Brian Rance (DOC), David Toole, Mike Thorsen, David Lyttle, Neill and Barbara Simpson,  Kate Cocks (Mt Nicholas Station), Bruce Foote (Mt Dobson ski field), Louise Neilson (Ohau Snow Fields), and Peter Wilson, David Campbell, and Hugh Wood (Awakino ski field).

What a privilege to be in the field in the Ida Range with these NZ botanists! Left to right: Antony Kusabs, Mike Thorsen, Neill Simpson, Barbara Simpson, Heidi Meudt, David Lyttle, John Barkla. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
What a privilege to be in the field in the Ida Range with these NZ botanists! Left to right: Antony Kusabs, Mike Thorsen, Neill Simpson, Barbara Simpson, Heidi Meudt, David Lyttle, John Barkla. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

Further reading

9 Comments

  1. Great photos Heidi – what an adventure, thanks for sharing. The Myosotis oreophila site in the Northern Dunstans is so tiny – 0.5ha – so I am sure it could still be on the Ida range…..somewhere!

    1. Author

      Thanks Bec, I am sure it is there too, we just need more time to (re)find it. And maybe we need you to come along next time too! 🙂

  2. Loved trying to keep those alpine Myosotis alive at Percy Reserve many years ago. So much better seeing them in the wild. Excellent blog.

    1. Author

      Hi Robyn,
      Thanks for your lovely comment. It certainly is a privilege (and a thrill!) to find and study them in their natural habitat. But hats off to you and others to have been able to grow them on, too. I wish I was better at that! Thanks for reading and checking in.
      Heidi

  3. A terrific record and much enjoyed reading and see in it – thanks!

    1. Author

      Thanks for your support, Claudia! Heidi

  4. The confusion over the regional classification is not surprising given that Ecological Districts and Regions scheme is entirely artificial and has not objective reality any more than those of local government.

  5. Fascinating but just a small correction, the Awakino ski field is in North Otago, rather than South Canterbury.
    I know this as our family has lived on alternative sides of the boundary the Waitaki river for 4 generations .

    1. Author

      Hi Ray, Thanks for your comment and I appreciate your eye for detail. At our herbarium in Te Papa, we use the Department of Conservation Ecological Districts and Regions which can be seen by clicking on those two map layers and then clicking on a locality on the map here: http://maps.doc.govt.nz/mapviewer/index.html?viewer=docmaps&Viewer=DOCMaps. At times, the districts and regions given by this website (and what we end up putting in our database) will differ slightly from the Regions of New Zealand used by local government or landowners like yourself, particularly when the locality is very near a boundary. Heidi

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