October in the hills with Chris Horne, Michele Dickson
Aristotelia fruticosa, , mountain wineberry
Origin of the botanical name
Aristotelia is named after the Greek philosopher and naturalist Aristotle (384-322 BC); fruticosa comes from the Latin words ‘frutex, fruticis’, meaning ‘shrub’. Mountain wineberry is a member of the Elaeocarpaceae family, a mostly tropical family, represented in Aotearoa/New Zealand by the genera Elaeocarpus and Aristotelia with two species.
Distribution and habitat
Mountain wineberry is endemic to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Look for it from the Volcanic Plateau and the Raukumara Range southwards to Rakiura/Stewart Island. It grows in the understorey of lowland to subalpine forest and in shrublands. It is more common at higher altitudes.
Mountain wineberry is a much-branched, erect to low-growing evergreen shrub, up to about 2 m tall. The bark is reddish brown. The branches range from entangled (divaricating) to erect and usually rigid. They are reddish brown and hairy. The leaves are in opposite pairs or in opposite bundles (fascicles). On juvenile branchlets the leaves are variable, either 5-7 x 4-5 mm, leathery and dark green, or 15 x 9 mm, thinner and lighter green. The veins are conspicuous on the undersides of the leaves. The juvenile leaves are larger and far more varied than the adult leaves, e.g., their edges are serrate and in some cases deeply incised.
Mountain wineberry flowers from October to December. The female and male flowers develop on separate plants. The flowers, 3 mm across, are solitary, or in opposite pairs, or in small groups of 3-6 flowers. They are white, pink or red. They resemble those on wineberry/makomako described in the September Tramper. The berries which develop from November to April are fleshy, spherical, 3-5 mm in diameter and bitter tasting. They range from white to bright pink to dark red to black. Each berry contains four-angled 2-2.6 mm seeds which are spread by birds.
Mountain wineberry and wineberry/makomako sometimes hybridise so look for hybrids when you visit areas where both species grow.
Mountain wineberry can be used as a hedge plant.
Where can you find mountain wineberry near Wellington?
Look for it in the Tararua Range beside the tracks to Powell Hut and Herepai Hut. If you find it in the Remutaka or Aorangi ranges, please photograph it and send us the images.