Friday, September 3, 2010


While familiarising ourselves with the coastal trees and shrubs of Whale Bay Reserve at
the same time we were learning to recognise all those in our own piece of forest, some
five kilometres from the coast but running out to the tidal Ngunguru River.  Over many
years Jan and I had developed extensive picture files of the marine life on this coast and
up in its mangrove estuaries.  Now, in the forest exploration phase of our lives,
equipped with digital cameras, we could afford to document each plant as a journey
through its life cycle, from seedling to bloom.  Guided by a check list of plants recorded
for our ecological region and aided by local experts Guy Bowden, Lisa Forester and our
Forest and Bird friends, we set out to locate each species and trace its annual cycle.  Our
computer built up a huge file which is easy to extend, revise and upgrade.
Gradually our want list induced us to explore further a field, checking out the Hugh
Crawford Memorial Reserve, Bratty’s Bush Reserve, the Soda Spring Reserve and
other Tutukaka coast forest remnants until we had completed our digital data base.
Besides trees and shrubs, it includes vines, ferns, orchids, grasses [ etc.], herbs, fungi
and lichens [etc].  By this stage we had become painfully aware there were certain plants
on the Tutukaka Coast that are rare or restricted to a few locations.
At Woolley's Bay one spring day (mid-October) I sighted what I thought was an
amazingly early pohutukawa in bloom.  Out on a branch a host of bees were feasting on
vivid red star burst blossoms.  This I discovered was a M. carminea rata vine.  I know of
only two others in this area.
On the slopes of Whale Bay our plant list expanded when, in late October, we
discovered the lemon-scented clematis C. foetida with its delicate strings of pale yellow
flowers; a new record for the area.  Nearby were hybrid lancewoods and, where the hill
meets the flats, dozens of healthy bushes of N.Z. gloxinia Rhabdothamnus.  Along the
main track in early November the fragrant native jasmine has pendant blooms that
develop into long black seed pods like skinny beans.  The vine spirals so tightly around
its host tree it leaves a continuous groove up its trunk.
At Matapouri on a steep slope we found a few tree tutu bushes, so abundant in forests
further north. And on the flat below, a strange puriri with pure white flowers rather than the
 usual pink.  On a rock outcrop near the beach, Melicytus novae-zelandiae another
rarity in this area.  Around the cliffs were karo with their dusk scented deep red flowers;
on a hill ridge was an aged ngaio, leaves dotted with tiny oil glands; and in forest behind
the estuary, a solitary hard beech, Notofagus truncata fell out of a land slip.  In two beach
areas we found the fuchsia, F. procumbens with cornflower blue and golden flowers,
exquisite enough to die for.  Beside the road south a small group of rare tree daisies,
Olearia solandri which bear masses of minute starry white flowers in mid-April.
At the Soda Spring Reserve, after having a refreshing soda drink from the bubbling
forest edge spring, we found nearby a massive puka vine writhing up an ancient totara,
along with several big ratas.  Possums delight in feasting on the lush, broad leaves of
puka.  Their hosts are a sign of old growth trees.  Such mighty vines with their distinctive
ribbed stems are becoming all too rare a sight.
On Tutukaka Lighthouse Reserve close to the lighthouse itself, is a perfectly spherical,
wind-compacted haekaro, P. umbellatum along with several rare shrubs.  The Bowden
property just to the north has a patch of rare king ferns, poataniwha shrubs and a very
rare coastal maire tree.
Around the shores of Tutukaka Harbour we were staggered to find a group of grass
trees, Dracophyllum on a forgotten ridge; a mountain maire above the marina;
snowberry shrubs on terraces above the car park and in a sequestered corner,
a rare colony of Pratia (Colensoa) a lobelia-like native, with big soft leaves and blue-purple
flowers and berries.
In a small D.O.C. Reserve just behind Tutukaka, stands the GIANT KAURI: Tane Moana. Jan and I measured it carefully.  A metre above ground level its girth is 11.16 metres.  It would be over a thousand years old.  While not as tall, its girth is as great as some of the famous trees in Waipoua Forest.
In Ngunguru Reserve behind the public library the forks of a few pohutukawa trees
support epiphytic shrubs of P. cornufolium, with their attractive scarlet seed capsules.
Up the river we have found a ngaio tree, brilliant M. fulgens rata and several grass trees.  A
mountain maire and P. umbellatum both extend from the bush over salt water.
Up stream, where fresh water begins near the Scow Landing, we found a huge titoki on
the river bank and a grove of sturdy ribbonwoods Plagianthus regius out in a paddock.
Scattered through the area we know of a few hinau, pukatea, Kirk's daisy; tawa, miro:
matai, kawaka, akeake, tarata, tawapou and kohuhu; all sporadic or rare.  The whau tree,
lightest wood in the world and once an attractive part of this coastal forest, has now
vanished from the wild, but one lives on the saddle  to Pebbly Beach.
At odd secluded places along Ngunguru estuary we have discovered rare colonies of mairehau bushes, their refreshingly aromatic leaves, stunning white flowers and red berries make me wonder why such a lovely native plant should become so scarce and forgotten.
Northland forests are especially diverse because they support species with sub tropical
origins as well as temperate climate trees.  The Tutukaka Coast is part of an ecological
district extending north to the Bay of Islands and south almost to Whangarei Heads, in
which forest types vary in a rich mosaic of patches.  There are steep slopes and ridges
where tanekaha, totara and kanuka are dominant.  Elsewhere, kauri, towai and taraire.
Puriri and taraire may predominate in a gully.  There are slopes which are mainly towai
mixed with rewarewa and puriri.  A ridge may have a predominant stand of rimu.  In
some areas, like the view from my window, there is a nice mixture of kaihikatea, rimu,
kauri, totara, karaka, puriri, kohekohe, rewarewa, kanuka, nikau, cabbage trees and tree
ferns.  Similar locations are sprinkled with northern rata, and the occasional kawaka, tawa,
pukatea, matai, miro or lancewood.
Some trees, like rimu and kaihikatea, have regular conical forms. Others, such as taraire,
kohekohe and kauri, have a sprawling canopy.  This creates variations in light access that
offer opportunities for smaller trees as a second canopy or understorey.  Depending on
situation this may include pigeonwood, tree fuchsia, houhere, kowhai, red matipo
(mapou), five finger, pate, hangehange, mamangi and kanuka.  On forest margins and in
light wells there is an edge community that may include kumarahou, mingimingi,
kawakawa, poroporo, korokia, hebe, rangiora, wharangi, tree daisy, manuka, taupata,
karamu and other small coprosmas; the bush daphne Alseuosmia ; the N.Z. gloxinia
Rhabdothamnus; cabbage trees of two species and flax.  Then, there are all the vines and other plants...
I am deeply alarmed at the number of New Zealand plants we have found that are
marginal or threatened.  What are the causes of this serious loss of biodiversity?  A
great many of our New Zealand trees are berry producers and have male and female forms:dioecious.  Lack of birds to distribute them and gender isolation would be major factors.  More than a century of forest clearance and burn offs hit this land hard.  Another
factor would be a lack of pollinators: birds, geckos and fruit bats.  Scarcity of available
habitat would be another.  People developing life-style blocks and wishing to
revegetate could have a major positive effect here if they were aware of the appropriate
plants and their habitat needs.  The current trend towards vigorous pest control on the Tutukaka Coast will reap huge benefits for all the pollinators, seed distributors and plants.
One of my green neighbours, to his horror, almost cut down the biggest, most
umbrageous putaputaweta tree I have ever seen, thinking it was a privet.  Another, a
great lover of plants, was half way through demolishing a magnificent native kohia passionfruit vine believing it was an exotic, accursed wind-spread moth plant.  We New Zealanders are often unfamiliar with many of our finest plants and risk losing them forever as our forests become bird silent; our landscape exotic.  The Tutukaka Coast has an immense future as a refugium: an oasis of wildlife belonging to the ancient world of Gondwana.
006 BEST FUNGI etc
DVD DISC available:




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