March in the hills with Chris Horne and Michele Dickson
Austroderia fulvida, toetoe, buff toetoe
Origin of the names
‘fulvida’ comes from the Latin word fulvidus meaning yellow-brown, tawny, hence the name buff toetoe.
A. fulvida occurs in Te Ika a Māui/North Island. In Te Waipounamu/South Island it is rare in Nelson and Marlborough. It has been planted in many other parts of the South Island from where it may have escaped, e.g., on the Kaikōura coast and the Hundalees. Plants on D’Urville and Maud islands have been planted.
Look for A. fulvida on the margins of streams, lakes and forests, in wet places and on hillsides up to 1300 m.
A. fulvida is a tall, stout tussock. Unlike most grasses, it has sharp-edged, flexible leaves. These are up to 2.5 m long x 2 cm wide. The leaf sheath covering the leaf below the joint with the leaf blade is ivory-coloured and waxy. Stroke it with a finger and feel the silky deposit. At the joint is a ligule, 1 mm high, a thin membranous projection partially surrounding the top of the leaf sheath, and at the base of this is a light-brown collar.
The kākaho/flowering stem, up to 3.5 m tall, bears a flower head up to 1 m long with drooping branches. The spikelets are up to 20 mm long and contain two or three florets and their chaffy bracts. Most florets are bisexual, but some are female only. Both may produce seeds. Like all grasses, buff toetoe is pollinated by the wind. Buf f toetoe flowers from late November to December, unlike A. toetoe (Feb 2019 Tramper) which flowers from January to February. This difference may help you to determine which toetoe you are looking at.
Where to find Austroderia fulvida
Look for this species of toetoe in the Tararua, Remutaka and Aorangi ranges, and on western Wellington’s hills.
Differences between toetoe and pampas grasses
Pampas species: The old leaf sheaths curl up like wood shavings at plant bases, and break into small sections. If you try to tear a leaf it should break. The predominant species’ white flowers appear late March to April, and purple pampas’ January to mid-March. The latter is easily distinguished by its purple plumes. The flowering heads are usually erect plumes. Native toetoe species: Old leaves or leaf sheaths of the species do not curl, but drop off. Leaves will not break when you try to tear them. Toetoe flower November to February and have drooping heads, except for A. toetoe. All have creamy, yellowish plumes.