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!
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.
We were not disappointed after finding no less than five different species of forget-me-nots, including Myosotis traversii and Myosotis australis.
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.
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.
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.
Myosotis lyallii subsp. elderi and M. macrantha were also found on the same peak.
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.
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’.
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).
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).