Flora of New Zealand

Over the winter months, the Terrace Garden that abuts the eastern edge of the Main Lawn has undergone major renovation work. The Demonstration and Display duo of Pete Kerley and Paul Aston, assisted by their horticultural trainee and other members of the Botanic Garden staff, have been repairing and reinstating the dry stone walling of the interlinking terraces, refreshing the soil and culling overgrown and over-mature plants. Originally, this area was devoted to rock garden plants before the newer, larger Limestone Rock Garden was created in 1950s on the shore of the Lake.
Continuing the theme of drama of diversity that runs through the Glasshouse Range and nearby Bays that seeks to explore some of the species-rich, unique floras of the world, the planting scheme under preparation for the restored Terrace Garden will present the flora of New Zealand.

The islands comprising New Zealand are deeply isolated in both geography and in time. New Zealand was once part of the supercontinent, Gondwana, which began to break up around 167 million years ago, thus dividing and distributing plant families across the southern hemisphere. New Zealand separated from the Antarctic landmass between 130-85 million years ago; today some 2000km of the Tasman Sea lies between New Zealand and Australia, while the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean lies to the east.

A rich and unique flora has evolved in this isolation, encouraged in its diversification by a wealth of different natural habitats ranging from frost-free lowland forests of sub-tropical plants to icy, mountainous regions supporting alpine plants. The flora is correspondingly rich in endemic plants, with 85% of the flora found naturally nowhere else in the world.

The new planting will make good use of the many niches and levels of the Terrace Garden. At the sunken heart of the Terrace Garden, a north-facing, shady and damp cove for ferns has been created, which will really come alive next year when a water pump is installed. Although few endemic New Zealand plants have showy flowers, the selection already planted up in the terrace closest to the Glasshouse Range does have a very distinct and exotic, in the sense of strange and foreign, feel to it. Close-carpeting mats of Acaena, with tiny, notched leaves and intriguing, burred spherical fruits held vertically aloft, are already creeping over the stone walls, while fountain bunches of the bright, russet orange grass, Carex testacea, glow against grey-leaved mounds of Hebe, covered with tiny, white flowers. Much of the material has been grown from seed, with thanks to the Wellington Botanic Garden, and is being bulked up in the reserve collections. We will also be trialling some borderline tender shrubs outside, including the glamorous Parrot’s Beak (Clianthus puniceus), with bright coral flowers, which, like the Jade Vine, is a member of the Pea (Leguminosae) family. It is now critically endangered and is now only known in the wild on Moturemu Island Each season we will also bring out the Silver Fern (Cyathea dealbata), a tree fern with delicate but very long fronds that, unusually, have a bright silver underside. The leaf is the logo of many sports in New Zealand and the emblem of its legendary rugby team, the All Blacks. Stands of New Zealand Phlax, Phormium cookianum, will dominate the southern perimeter.

Interpretation is currently under development to highlight the rich diversity of the New Zealand flora and to examine some of the culinary, medicinal and symbolic applications the Maori people of New Zealand (called ‘Aotearoa’ by the Maori, or Land of the Long White Cloud) have found for the flora. We hope you will enjoy watching this New Zealand display become established, as the Demonstration and Display team plant up the Terrace Garden over the coming months.

Juliet Day, Development Officer
Friends' News Issue 83, May 2010