A sanctuary for wildlife, Orokonui Ecosanctuary is rapidly
becoming a haven for our rare native plants too, writes Alyth
"What are those big daisies doing in our ecosanctuary? Don't
they belong in Fiordland, or in the mountains?"
Well might a visitor ask, on seeing unexpected plants while
walking along the Kaka track in search of birds. Fuchsia,
five-finger, mahoe, lemonwood we know to expect in our
region, but celmisias?
"Yes indeed, these ones, Celmisia hookeri, belong in
East Otago," plant expert and Orokonui Ecosanctuary trustee
Kelvin Lloyd said. He was keen that the park should be a
place for plant advocacy as well as for birds and reptiles.
The rare plants garden sets out to showcase the special
plants that have been lost from our environment, or struggle
to survive due to competition from introduced species or the
munchings of browsing stock.
You will find it on the left of the main path, soon after
entering the ecosanctuary, and if you stop to read the labels
you can learn just how rare each is in national terms. But
here they are flourishing.
Getting rare plants established has taken a remarkable amount
of teamwork. The trustees may have had the idea, but it is
volunteers who have taken the task in hand, Lloyd says. He is
full of praise for their efforts.
The "before" pictures show how unprepossessing the area was
to begin with - a rough, rock-littered paddock with more
gorse than anything native. The most promising thing was the
view to the Silverpeaks, which now can be enjoyed from the
inviting seat placed by the garden.
Graeme Cook answered the call for volunteers to take on
responsibility for certain areas of the ecosanctuary. He
carried out the heavy labour of creating a structure and
shape to the garden.
First he built a rock wall to make a raised bed, then laid
out paths around the designated area, installed an irrigation
system, and finally back-filled with soil.
He and wife Judy have since taken on the responsibility of
maintaining the garden, which will grow weeds like any other
- but will offer surprises as well.
Valerie Fay, who has sourced seeds and propagated plants
donated by helpful Dunedin botanists and organisations, was
delighted recently to spot a native orchid (Gastrodia
cunninghamii) that had unexpectedly popped up in the rare
Fay keeps careful records of all the plants she has acquired
- how many there were, where they have been planted, any
failures, or restrictions on their propagation - in order to
avoid accidental hybridisation.
In future, Orokonui may in its turn become a source for other
restoration projects, and it is just as important to know the
provenance of a plant as it is to know the pedigree of a bull
From just two plants of Carex inopinata (a grassy mat
sedge), Fay was given, she has successfully propagated 200
plants for Orokonui, and still has the originals from which
to collect further seed.
It has all taken time, and change will continue as plants
multiply and are added. Cook has already had to remove some
kanuka that were getting too big, having performed their task
of providing shelter for smaller plantings.
Many of the plants already look very much established.
The celmisias, for instance, have flowered most of the winter
and have now set seed, as have the Euphorbia glauca -
the latter almost to excess, says Fay, who constantly has her
eye on seedlings she has nurtured.
Perhaps this summer the Gingidia, and the delicately
intertwined branchlets of Olearia fragrantissima (to
the left of the path round the garden) will flower for the
first time. The fragrantissima is a more delicate,
perfumed relative of the Olearia paniculata hedge you
may have in your garden.
Keep your eye on them.
- Alyth Grant is a volunteer worker at Orokonui
Ecosanctuary and a member of the ONHT Trustboard.
Wild Ways appears on the first Saturday on the month.