He mātauranga huaota o Hikurangi – The botany of Hikurangi

He mātauranga huaota o Hikurangi – The botany of Hikurangi

In January 2020, Te Papa botanists Heidi Meudt and Antony Kusabs were hunting for uncommon forget-me-nots in a very special place: Hikurangi, East Cape.

A particular highlight of this trip was the collaboration with local iwi and other botanists. Here, Heidi recalls the trip.

The maunga: Hikurangi. Photo by Kerry Ford, Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research.
The maunga (mountain) at Hikurangi. Photo by Kerry Ford. Manaaki Whenua-Allan Herbarium

A special maunga

Hikurangi is a special maunga (mountain) in the Raukūmara in northeast North Island. Firstly, it is the sacred maunga of Ngāti Porou. Secondly, as the North Island’s highest non-volcanic peak, it has an interesting subalpine flora, including two species of forget-me-nots! Finally, it is recognised as the first place the sun’s rays touch each morning in mainland New Zealand.

An awesome tīma

Ant and I were accompanied by an awesome tīma (team) – thanks guys! Importantly, Ngāti Porou representatives Tui Warmenhoven and Graeme Atkins were with us; Manaaki Whenua botanists Kerry Ford and Santiago Martín-Bravo – visiting from Spain – came to find native sedges and a species of woollyhead; and finally, Ant’s brother, Scott Kusabs – from Bay of Plenty Regional Council – also joined us.

The awesome team standing outside Hikurangi Hut, ready to start botanising! Santiago, Ant, Scott, Kerry, Tui and Graeme. 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Santiago Martín-Bravo.
The awesome team standing outside Hikurangi Hut, ready to start botanising! Santiago, Ant, Scott, Kerry, Heidi, Tui, and Graeme, 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Santiago Martín-Bravo

Our main mission was to find the two forget-me-nots historically found on Hikurangi.

Santiago and Kerry carrying some of our gear from the vehicles up to Hikurangi Hut, where we would stay for two nights. 30 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Santiago and Kerry (a.k.a. the “sedgeheads”) carrying some of our gear from the vehicles up to Hikurangi Hut, where we would stay for two nights, 30 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Heidi Meudt at Hikurangi hut. Photo by Kerry Ford, Manaaki Whenua-Allan Herbarium.
Heidi Meudt at Hikurangi hut. Photo by Kerry Ford. Manaaki Whenua-Allan Herbarium
The team taking a break in a nice patch of remnant native forest above Hikurangi Hut. 30 Jan 2020. Photo by Ant Kusabs @ Te Papa.
The team taking a break in a nice patch of remnant native forest above Hikurangi Hut, 30 Jan 2020. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa

Botanising Hikurangi

Heading up the steep slope toward the summit of Hikurangi... Will we find the forget-me-nots? We are searching every nook and cranny. 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Santiago Martín-Bravo.
Heading up the steep slope toward the summit of Hikurangi… Will we find the forget-me-nots? We are searching every nook and cranny, 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Santiago Martín-Bravo

The forget-me-not hunting was only partly successful. A good population of the common species Myosotis drucei was found near the summit.

A beautiful specimen of Myosotis drucei, complete with tiny fruits and flowers, near the summit of Hikurangi. 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
A beautiful specimen of Myosotis drucei, complete with tiny fruits and flowers, near the summit of Hikurangi, 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Ant doing some "botanical yoga" to get the perfect shot of Myosotis drucei while Scott deftly controls the lighting. 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Ant doing some ‘botanical yoga’ to get the perfect shot of Myosotis drucei while Scott deftly controls the lighting, 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

However, the uncommon species Myosotis amabilis eluded us, even though we think we were in the ‘right’ habitat.

Some of the steep rocky crags of Hikurangi that we searched, to no avail, for Myosotis amabilis. 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt @ Te Papa.
Some of the steep rocky crags of Hikurangi that we searched, to no avail, for Myosotis amabilis, 31 Jan 2020. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

On the other hand, we made collections of several other native plants of research interest, which you can see here or in the slide show below:

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A dedicated kaitiaki

Two people in hiking gear and caps standing on the top of a mountain with blue sky and more mountains in the background. One person is holding a phone up and is wearing a high-vis vest
DOC Ranger and networker extraordinaire Graeme Atkins with Heidi Meudt on the female summit of Hikurangi, 31 Jan 2020. Graeme was recording live to his social media profile as this photo was being taken. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa

We were especially fortunate that kaitiaki (guardian) Graeme Atkins came with us. Graeme grew up in the area and has been a Department of Conservation Ranger for many years. He won the 2020 Loder Cup for his unwavering passion and dedication to native plant conservation.

Several years ago, Graeme and I (and our families) teamed up to collect native plantains like this one. As a result, we discovered a shared kaupapa and love of plants. Moreover, time spent together on joint field trips strengthens our botanical and personal connections.

Whanaungatanga – “It’s all about relationships”

The New Zealand botanical network in general – and Graeme in particular – are both wonderfully collaborative and supportive. As Graeme often says, “It’s all about relationships”. After our time together on Hikurangi, it is clear his wise words can be understood on multiple levels. He is talking about whanaungatanga (relationships) between people, between plants and animals, and between people and their environment, to name a few.

The Raukūmara faces some big conservation challenges. Graeme and his colleagues are about to help heal and strengthen such relationships there.  Together with others from Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, and DOC, a massive project to control pests and protect the forests in the Raukūmara – including Hikurangi – is about to get underway.

Sharing botanical and cultural mātauranga

Two people and a pack sitting beside a pond high up on a grassy mountain. There are two other people on the hill in the middle distance.
Tui sharing her deep knowledge about Hikurangi, whilst others botanise on the ridge in the background during our trip. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa
Two people crouched in the bush and long grass on the side of a mountain
Ant and Santiago working together to collect Gahnia procera at the bush line. Santiago was visiting Aotearoa to collect sedge species, especially from two groups with many species here, the hooksedges (Uncinia) and the tooth-beaked sedges (Carex section Echinochlaenae). Photo by Kerry Ford. Manaaki Whenua-Allan Herbarium

In conclusion, our field trip to Hikurangi was about more than simply collecting native plants. Botanical and cultural mātauranga (knowledge) was shared about the flora and history of Hikurangi. Relationships and networks were expanded and enriched, to the benefit of all. And a seed was planted for another field trip. So stay tuned to learn if we eventually find the elusive forget-me-not…

A view of mountain ranges from the top of a mountain at sunset. There is a sharp, pointy mountain near the middle of the photo.
Evening view of Wharekia from Hikurangi hut. Photo by Kerry Ford. Manaaki Whenua-Allan Herbarium

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