August above the bushline with Barbara Mitcalfe and Chris Horne
Leucogenes species, NZ edelweiss
Edelweiss is one of our many mountain daisy species, renowned world-wide for their beauty and diversity. The Asteraceae (daisy) family is where our four endemic NZ edelweiss species nestle. They are all woody sub-shrubs, often domed in shape, usually less than 15 cm high, but are all easily identified as edelweiss by their silvery-white, densely-packed foliage, and their white, woolly bracts that look just like petals, surrounding the central, yellow disc florets.
Club members are familiar with our logo – Leucogenes leontopodium, the North Island edelweiss. A few years ago some members realised the logo was the European edelweiss, so in late 2010 the General Committee ratified members' choice to change it to our North Island edelweiss instead. Most of you will know L. leontopodium, found at low-to-high-alpine altitude in both islands, from Mt Hikurangi to Nelson and Marlborough. Immortalised in the tramping song, Slopes of Mt Alpha, the 'shapely lady' concerned had edelweiss adorning her hair, so we assume it was L. leontopodium.
The name 'leonto-podium' is from the generic name of the European edelweiss. It means lion-footed, referring to the central, grouped, yellow florets of the compound flower, resembling a cat's foot-pads. The surrounding petal-like bracts look like a flower c. 25 mm in diameter. The dense rosettes of pointed, silvery leaves form an attractive, geometric pattern, and the whole shrub often adopts a cushion form.
In the Tararuas, look for it in fellfield and rocky sites. If you are traversing the Tararua tops, between East Peak and West Peak, you may notice the area where this edelweiss hybridises with another member of the Asteraceae family in the vicinity, producing a mosaic of prostrate intermediate forms which look like tiny savoury scrolls on the ground.
Leucogenes grandiceps, the “large-headed” edelweiss is the South and Stewart islands' edelweiss , widespread from low-to-high-alpine altitude. However its flowers are no larger than those of the other species. It is not found in the North Island. Often growing on rocky outcrops, this species is usually shorter-stemmed than L. leontopodium, with broader, shorter leaves.
Leucogenes neglecta is the Marlborough edelweiss. It was only relatively recently recognised as different from L. grandiceps, hence the epithet of 'neglected'. Botanising in Marlborough in the late 90s, we remember lively discussions about how it might eventually be classified. Its rocky habitat is like that of the other species, but it has noticeably smaller flowers, silvery-blue floral bracts, leaves that are more closely appressed to the stems, and a much looser form instead of a more cushiony habit. Its Conservation Threat Status is Naturally Uncommon. Look for it on rocky outcrops when you're tramping between the Wairau and Awatere catchments.
Tarahaoa is the Māori name for South Canterbury's Mt Peel, so keep your eyes peeled for this species when you are there - but watch where you tread - it is a Mt Peel endemic, with the Conservation Status of Nationally Vulnerable. To quote from Threatened Plants of New Zealand, (Canterbury University Press), “The plants are extremely vulnerable to trampling by livestock such as sheep, and by humans. There is some evidence to suggest that the population is in decline. Some of the more accessible plants have disappeared recently, possibly through illegal collection.”
L. tarahaoa grows in a restricted area, high on the narrow spur leading to the summit. It often forms very firm, domed cushions, standing proud of the soil surface by up to 15 cm. or more - see image. The whole plant is silvery-grey, with neat, densely-packed rosettes of narrow, pointed leaves and woolly, white bracts reaching up and out, like fingers, to greet you.