Searching for rare forget-me-nots with North Island iwi

Searching for rare forget-me-nots with North Island iwi

In December 2020, our botanists Heidi Meudt and Antony Kusabs were in the field with three North Island iwi: Tamakaimoana, Ngāti Porou, and Te Whānau-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.

Nine people standing and sitting in front of a red and white building
The team on the steps of the Maungapōhatu marae: Kerry, Heidi, Karen, Sarah, Willie, Atamira, Antony, Paora and Stephanie, Dec 2020.

We were joined by several others from Te Papa, Manaaki Whenua, and Wildland Consultants. Atamira skillfully guided us in the tikanga and logistics of the maunga.

Four people in woolly hats and jumpers sitting around a photo of a mountain range
At a hui the night before we started our mahi, we got to know one another, learned about the tikanga for working on the maunga, and discussed logistics. Photo by Steph Tibble

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.

Three people with hiking packs and hats on standing in the sunshine looking at the camera
Ant, Heidi, and Paora on the trek to our campsite near the base of the maunga at Maungapōhatu. Photo by Paora Tibble. Te Papa
Three people with hiking gear and carrying packs climbing up the side of a grassy hill
Atamira, Sarah and Willie, on Coprosma shrubland slopes with much Carex flagellifera, Juncus distegis and water fern (Histiopteris incisa); below bluffs, Maungapōhatu. Photo by Kerry Ford

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.

Four people with hiking gear on sitting in the bush having a picnic lunch
Sarah, Kerry, Willie and Atamira fuelling up with a big lunch before heading up the maunga at Maungapōhatu. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A man in hiking gear standing next to a grassy cliff face writing in a notebook in his hands
Ant below the sedge Schoenus pauciflorus “fine”, Maungapōhatu. Photo by Kerry Ford
A closeup of a wide-leafed plant on a mossy rock
Craspedia sp., growing on the bluffs of Maungapōhatu. Most likely similar to Craspedia “Hikurangi”. Photo by Kerry Ford
A shrub that has had the middle of it eaten away by deer
Heavily deer-browsed tāwhairauriki (silver beech, Lophozonia menziesii) at our camp at Maungapōhatu. Photo by Kerry Ford
A vista of mountains and trees seen from the top of a mountain, with blue sky and white clouds
View from the maunga to Maungapōhatu village and surrounding bush. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa

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.

A person wearing a hiking pack standing on the side of a mountain ridge with mist covering the other side of the ridge
Clouds on the main ridge of the southern Hikurangi Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A man in hiking gear standing on the side of a mountain pass looking back towards the camera. There is a large mountainous vista in front of him.
Antony Kusabs enjoying the view from above camp on Hikurangi. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A rocky and shrub-covered mountain ridge with blue sky in the background
View south as we walked along the main ridge of the southern Hikurangi Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

A blue tent on the side of a mountain with a man sitting inside writing notes
Ant Kusabs pressing plants at our campsite on Hikurangi. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A small shrub growing out from small rocks
A plant of Myosotis drucei (SP111285) on Hikurangi. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

People in orange high-visibility gear on the side of a bush-covered mountain
Graeme and Wiremu heading toward the saddle on Whanokao in some steep country. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
Three people in high-visibility gear standing on the top of a mountain, there are clouds behind them and blue sky
Ant, Wiremu, and Graeme on the summit of Whanokao. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A man sitting on the top of a grassy mountain wearing a high visibility jacket. There are mountain ranges in the background and blue sky
Graeme on the summit of Whanokao looking across the Raukumara Range to his maunga, Hikurangi. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

Four people looking at the camera. There is a mountain behind them covered in mist
Team selfie on Whanokao: Graeme Atkins, Heidi Meudt, Wiremu Wharepapa, and Antony Kusabs. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa
Three people wearing high-visibility clothing standing near two blue tents, surrounded by bush with mountains in the background
At our campsite on Whanokao with Wiremu, Ant, and Graeme. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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:

Two white five-petal flowers on a plant with three leaves sprouting from a rock.
Flowers of Myosotis forsteri (SP111288) on Whanokao. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
 A man in a hat crouching down by two newspapers sorting specimens on the top of a hill
Ant pressing plants at camp on Whanokao. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

A close up of white flowers on a green plant sprouting from a rock
The beautiful flowers of Myosotis saxosa (SP110017) in the Maungaharuru Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A man in a hat and a high-visibility vest writing in a notebook while looking at grass on the side of a mountain
Mike Thorsen counting Myosotis saxosa plants (SP110027) in the Maungaharuru Range, which is the stronghold for this threatened species. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa
A person in a green jacket and a hat showing a plant growing on the side of a rocky outcrop
Heidi next to a population of the threatened species Myosotis saxosa (SP110017) in its typical habitat in the Maungaharuru Range. Photo by Heidi Meudt. Te Papa

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.

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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.

Damaged grass and ground in the foreground and trees and a cliff in the background
Wetland on Whanokao damaged and degraded by high deer numbers. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa
Three people in hiking gear looking up towards a sharp incline on a mountain
Graeme, Wiremu, and Heidi in the degraded wetland on Whanokao. Photo by Antony Kusabs. Te Papa

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.

Six people looking at the camera in cold-weather clothes with shrubland and mountains in the background
Our tireless team on Maungapōhatu: Ant, Heidi, Kerry, Sarah, Willie, and Atamira. Photo by Atamira Nuku

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.

2 Comments

  1. So pleased to know that this kind of ‘mahi’ is possible in NZ – I was part of the DSIR 40-50 years ago and it was ‘normal – what we did – but rationalization happened…worse here in Australia.

    1. Author

      Kia ora John,
      Thanks so much for reading the blog, and for submitting your comment. We are fortunate that field work and collaboration with iwi are both valued components of our research here at the museum and elsewhere in NZ. I hope other people and institutions will see the positive experiences we have had, and in future there will be more examples of this mahi in NZ and abroad.
      Heidi

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