November in the forest with Chris Horne and Barbara Mitcalfe
Olearia colensoi, Leatherwood
Trampers who have struggled through leatherwood in the ranges, know all too well how its thick, leathery, serrated leaves, and stout, hairy, interlacing branches hold you back, gouge your bare legs, and even rip your clothes. On the other hand, if in a storm you can't reach the relative safety of the forest below before nightfall, leatherwood may provide just enough shelter for you to camp in your sleeping bag and cover, or wrapped in your tent.
You will find this tough, rigid shrub, in montane to subalpine scrub just above the bushline, from Mt Hikurangi in the Raukumara Range, East Cape, all the way south to Rakiura/Stewart Island, where it grows at sea-level.
Leatherwood/tūpare is a New Zealand endemic member of the world's largest plant family, the daisies, numbering about 25,000 species worldwide. It is NZ's largest native plant family too: 32 genera and 290 species, including edelweiss (Leucogenes), which features on our club logo, our world-famous mountain daisies (Celmisias) and even our “vegetable sheep” (Raoulias).
The 8-20cm by 3-6cm grey-green leaves have densely hairy, white or buff undersides, probably to reduce moisture loss. Tiny tubular florets without petals are grouped in a rounded purplish- brown cluster 2-3 cm across, followed by seeds with “parachutes” like dandelions.
In A selection of poems, songs and short stories, Harold W Gretton included this song familiar to many trampers: (Air: Isle of Capri)
‘Twas on the top of Mount Alpha I met her Beneath the shade of a leatherwood tree. She had a razor-sharp slasher beside her. She said: Come down to Cone Hut with me ...
Look in our Tararua Song Book for the rest of this traditional tramping ballad, although near- impenetrable leatherwood is more likely to have you burst into curses and grab your slasher rather than burst into song.