Native plant identification, Khandallah Park
21 January 2018
We three co-leaders drafted a species list during a recce of the route the previous weekend. The list comprised three columns: botanical name, Māori name, common name. Everyone on the trip received a copy of the list, with each species numbered, to make it easy to find on the list a species we were discussing. The list included 72 native plants, 29 introduced plants, and nine species of birds.
In ideal weather, we walked slowly up the Northern Walkway in tall forest from Simla Crescent, ‘botanising’ as we went. We learnt to use several senses – what a plant’s leaf or frond looks like, what it feels like, and in some cases, what it tastes or smells like when crushed. We used feel and looks to distinguish between plants that look alike initially, e.g., whauwhaupaku/five-finger and patē/seven-finger. Then we learnt that these two species usually have five or seven leaflets per leaf, and that this leaf arrangement is called ‘palmate’. Using our sense of smell, we enjoyed inhaling the perfume of a crushed tarata/lemonwood leaf and a crushed wharangi leaf. Little wonder that Māori used these plants for perfume. We crushed and tasted a kawakawa leaf to sample the mildly peppery taste. Some in our group already use kawakawa to make a refreshing tea. Try it! Tear up a couple of leaves, put them in your tea-pot, add boiling water, then savour the tasty brew!
People were interested in the common features shared by all species in the Metrosideros genus: rātā trees, climbing rātās, and pōhutukawa. The leaves of each species are opposite on the stem, have smooth edges, and all have a vein parallel to the underside of the leaf edge, although it is often hard to see. Likewise, all our 57 species of Coprosma have opposite leaves, pits along the mid-rib on the underside of the usually smooth-edged leaves, and small projections called stipules, near the bases of the leaf stalks.
The presence of many young plants of kohekohe, rewarewa, karamu etc., whose leaves or seeds are eaten by possums or rodents, shows the efficacy of pest-animal control in the reserve. Greater Wellington Regional Council protects the park with 108 possum-bait stations and 25 DOC200 stoat traps.
As plants were identified, people ticked the plants on their copy of the list, sometimes made notes about features that stood out for them, and practised the pronunciation of the Te Reo or botanical names.
We discussed the problem of native trees which are weedy in Wellington. Examples include karaka, which probably once occurred naturally only in the Far North, karo, (Poverty Bay northwards), and a species of lacebark (Waikato northwards). The first two species are spread by birds. The city’s increasing population of kererū is spreading karaka – they swallow the 2.5-4 cm long fruit, and later eject the seed far from the source tree.
We were passed by many walkers and runners, enjoying the fine day. A pity that some dog walkers, having put their dog’s poo in a plastic bag, sometimes leave the bag by the side of the track.
After a satisfying session in this fine forest, most of us had hot drinks, food and a chat on the shady balcony at Café du Parc, near Khandallah’s pool full of people enjoying a swim to offset the day’s heat.
- Party members
- Diana Barnes, Karen Commons, Cecil Duff, Julia Fraser, Dianne Hill, Sue Kano, Carol Kelly, Doreen Launder, Chris Leather, Geraldine Moore, Bruce Popplewell, Kerry Popplewell, Co-leaders/scribes: Michele Dickson, Chris Horne, Lynne Pomare.