In December 2020, our botanists Heidi Meudt and Antony Kusabs were in the field with three North Island iwiiwi tribe Māori | Noun | Listen: Tamakaimoana, Ngāti Porou, and Te Whānauwhānau Family Māori | Noun | Listen-ā-Apanui. Worryingly, their search for rare forget-me-nots was unsuccessful. But their collaborative mahi struck a meaningful chord.
Maungapōhatu – Tamakaimoana
We were welcomed to Maungapōhatu by Atamira Nuku and her whānau with a mihi whakatau and generous hospitality. We were excited to finally be there after months of planning with Atamira.
In addition, we could feel the importance of this place to Atamira and her hapū, Tamakaimoana – it was palpable, tangible.
We were joined by several others from Te Papa, Manaaki Whenuawhenua land Māori | Noun | Listen, and Wildland Consultants. Atamira skillfully guided us in the tikanga and logistics of the maunga.
Furthermore, we benefited from the observations of pākehā botanists who visited Maungapōhatu before us. Specimens of Myosotis amabilis were collected by Lucy Cranwell and Lucy Moore in 1930, and again by Sarah Beadel and Willie Shaw 1984, and Tony Druce also visited in 1953.
We set off for two days of arduous botanising on the summit plateau of Maungapōhatu. Together, we camped at the base of the maunga for two nights, sharing stories, kai, knowledge, and the mahi of pressing plant specimens.
Hikurangi – Ngāti Porou
This was our second trip to Hikurangi, the sacred maunga of Ngāti Porou. We had been unsuccessful in finding Myosotis amabilis on the northern peaks in January 2020. This time, we explored the rugged southern part of the range.
Unfortunately, our Ngāti Porou colleagues, Graeme, and Tui, weren’t able to accompany us this time. In addition, we failed once again to find M. amabilis.
Encouragingly however, we did find additional populations of another forget-me-not, M. drucei, and made other research collections.
Whanokao – Te Whānau-Ā-Apanui
Whanokao is only about 10 km from Hikurangi as the kākā flies over the Raukumara Range. We flew there in a helicopter – together with Graeme Atkins and Wiremu Wharepapa.
Whanokao is the maunga of Wiremu’s iwi, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. For this reason, it was a special privilege to explore Whanokao with Wiremu.
Despite the perfect weather, and our amazing – and persistent – team, we were unable to locate Myosotis amabilis. However, we did find other botanical treasures, including a good population of M. forsteri in flower:
Where have all the flowers gone?
We didn’t find Myosotis amabilis at Hikurangi, Whanokao or Maungapōhatu. In the Maungaharuru Range (Hawke’s Bay), however, we did find good populations of Myosotis saxosa – a very similar and equally threatened species.
Whether M. amabilis and M. saxosa are one species or two different species is a current focus of my taxonomic research.
It is very worrying that we did not find these rare forget-me-nots. Specimens and species lists tell us that Myosotis and other species were on these maunga as recently as the 1980s. It could be that the plants are there and we simply didn’t find them.
Alternatively, human-induced changes to these areas may be to blame. Introduced deer, in particular, are causing big problems in the Raukumara, Maungapōhatu and other areas of New Zealand.
Ecological impacts of introduced mammals
We literally walked in the footsteps of Tony Druce on these maunga, but were unable to find many of the plants he found half a century ago.
In those days, deer and possums were certainly not common on Hikurangi, Whanokao or Maungapōhatu. But on this trip, we saw evidence on all three maunga of high deer numbers and the damage that they do.
A number of palatable species were noticeably absent or in decline. At Maungapōhatu, species such as karamu (Coprosma) and native buttercups (Ranunculus) were found only in places that were out reach of deer.
On Whanokao, kotukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata) has completely disappeared, and other natives were barely hanging on, such as Pseudopanax colensoi, Pimelea buxifolia, Ranunculus insignis, and Gaultheria colensoi.
Browsing is not the only detrimental effect that introduced mammals have on native vegetation. We saw evidence of habitat damage and other ecological impacts from high animal numbers. For example, Graeme noticed severe ground disturbance at one site on Whanokao.
Such disturbance in turn affects the hydrology and the species able to grow there. Graeme’s observation was backed up by Tony Druce’s diary notes. What had once been a wetland in Tony’s time, was now dry and degraded.
Working together, we discovered a shared kaupapa
Despite these grim observations, conducting field work with local iwi was incredibly uplifting and meaningful. Whanaungatanga (relationships) were initiated or deepened, mātauranga (knowledge) was shared. Through this collaborative mahi (work), we discovered that we all share a passion for the same kaupapa (topic or purpose).
Iwi now have monitoring sites on Hikurangi and Whanokao. They are already planning on taking better care of their alpine areas as part of the Raukumara Pae Maunga project. So many species have gone already, but they are drawing a line in the sand; not one more native species to be lost from our alpine areas.
Heidi and Antony are extremely grateful to Atamira Nuku and her whānau (Tamakaimoana), Graeme Atkins and Tui Warmenhoven (Ngāti Porou), and Wiremu Wharepapa (Te Whānau-Ā-Apanui) for working with us on this mahi, and look forward to continued collaborations.
Thanks also to the Te Papa Iwi Relationships team, Paora and Stephanie Tibble, Kerry Ford, Sarah Beadel and Willie Shaw, Alan Lee, Mike Thorsen, private landowners, and the Department of Conservation.