Neither snow nor rain nor wind nor gloom of night stays these botanists. On a field trip to the South Island in January 2021, botanists Heidi Meudt and Antony Kusabs went to some extreme measures to collect forget-me-nots and other plants for our research and collections.
Extreme summer weather – snow and wind
We knew that a cold front had recently come through Otago, but we weren’t sure how low snow had fallen in the mountains. We took a chance and flew in a helicopter to our designated site in the Harris Mountains, near End Peak… Only to find we had entered a winter wonderland – in January!
We can now tick “botanical field work in the snow” off our bucket list. It’s certainly not the ideal way to collect plants, as most of them were buried. Nevertheless, we managed to make several collections for the Te Papa herbarium.
We also encountered some extreme winds on this trip, particularly in the Dunstan Mountains.
It’s hard to tell from photos just how windy it was. So check out this short video, where you can watch a group of us on Dunstan Peak attempting to botanize in a very strong wind:
And here is a short video of Antony Kusabs doing a stellar job collecting leaf samples from Myosotis oreophila in the Dunstan Mountains in a gale. These leaves will be used for DNA analysis. Ka rawe, Ant! Excellent!
Getting extremely stuck on a 4WD track
To reach some of our collecting sites this year, we used 4WD vehicles. Most of the tracks we used were dry and in good condition, which meant for relatively straightforward travel.
However, one of our vehicles got stuck during a stream crossing! It was the perfect opportunity to put our 4WD vehicle recovery training into practice. After a bit of digging, ramp-building, and teamwork, we were back on track.
Extremely small plants
Many forget-me-nots and some of the other plants we collected are tiny. Because of this, were often crouched close to the ground to find, photograph and collect the plants:
Extreme makeover: backcountry hut edition
We were grateful in some places to have access to small huts to database, process and image our collections:
In the end, our twelve days doing extreme botany was both fun and productive: we made over 90 collections for the museum including several forget-me-nots, like this one, Myosotis oreophila, which is endemic to the Dunstan Mountains:
Many thanks to David Lyttle, Neill and Barbara Simpson, Melissa Jager, Rebecca Teele, Hamish Brown, John & Marilyn Barkla, Dhana Pillai, Charlotte Boyt, Cara-Lisa Schloots, and Alice Shanks for accompanying us on our extreme botany adventure. For more photos, check out Ant’s tweets about this trip.
wow amazing, just yesterday I discovered a lovely book with plates drawn by a lovely lady Matilda Smith from Kew gardens who was commissioned to draw the NZ flora. There were a few depicting myosotis but in particular myosotis monroi, also collected from Dun Mountain around 1854. so lovely to see people passionate from ages ago, and how their work is still being built on nearly 170yrs later.
Kia ora Coral,
Thank you so much for your comment. Like you, I am also a huge fan of botanical illustrations, both old and new. In fact, I included two of Matilda Smith’s plates, including the one you mentioned of M. monroi, in my latest publication on Myosotis this year! (The paper can be seen here but you may not have access to it: https://www.publish.csiro.au/SB/SB20028. I’ve just sent you a pdf to your email so you can see it.) Matilda Smith’s illustrations are incredibly detailed and still very relevant today. I’ve also had the pleasure to work with the amazing illustrator Bobbi Angell, who has done several botanical illustrations for some of my previous papers. You can see some of them here: https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/3669 but I just realized I don’t have her most recent Myosotis illustrations up on that site, so I will get that updated! Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
Wow! Good work, team. I will never forget them now
Thank you, Stuart! This field trip was challenging in some ways, but we also really enjoyed it. I’m glad you are a new forget-me-not fan – thanks for reading and commenting.