Ten of New Zealand’s best

Pohutukawa was  third in the top 10. Photos: Gillian Vine
Pohutukawa was third in the top 10. Photos: Gillian Vine
Gillian Vine checks out this year’s top 10 natives.

Lancewood or horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius) came in eighth.
Lancewood or horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius) came in eighth.
After the long-tailed bat was named bird of the year, I wondered if the top native plant might be a spider or a weta.

Members of the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (NZPCN) stuck to their knitting, so to speak, and chose a plant, the pigmy button daisy, Leptinella nana.

NZPCN council member and botanist John Barkla said: "This is a big win for a tiny plant that only exists in a few areas that add up to [an area] smaller than most people’s living rooms."

We have about 20 native Leptinella species, many endangered in the wild, including L. rotundata, which makes an attractive ground cover. Not threatened is L. squalida and the Platts Black form is an increasingly familiar garden ground cover. Leptinellas from alpine regions tend to require loving care and are less popular with gardeners, but L. nana does have potential as a garden plant, which may be its salvation, given its rarity in nature.

Runner-up in the top 10 was kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus), now found wild only as a single pink-flowered plant in Northland, while the white form is extinct, surviving only as a garden shrub.

Puawhananga (Clematis paniculate) was ninth equal.
Puawhananga (Clematis paniculate) was ninth equal.
Number three on the list was pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), followed by the critically endangered swamp helmet orchid (Corybas carsei), then shrubby mingimingi (Muehlenbeckia astonii) and the widespread coastal kowhai (Sophora chathamica) making it to sixth place.

A rare North Island bearded orchid, Calochilus herbaceous, came seventh, beating horoeka or lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius) by a single vote. The latter is a familiar sight and one of the best trees, native or exotic, for small gardens, thanks to its slim build and changing form from downward drooping juvenile leaves to a round-headed adult 5m or so tall. The toothed lancewood (P. ferox) doesn’t grow quite as tall, has somewhat variable leaf colour and will tolerate drier conditions.

The yellow form of pohutukawa.
The yellow form of pohutukawa.
By far the best known of the eight New Zealand clematis species is puawhananga (Clematis paniculata), which can climb 9m in the bush. It made it to number nine on this year’s top 10 and is fairly easy to grow if it is given rich, moist soil beside a tree or tall shrub so it can climb towards the light.

Denis Hughes, of Blue Mountain Nurseries in Tapanui, bred Sweet Hart with a cross of C. cartmanii, another native species. This is a smaller plant that can be grown as a climber or allowed to sprawl in a rockery, where the evergreen leaves look good even when the spring flowers have gone.

Kaka beak ranked second in the poll. This form, Clianthus puniceus Albus, is extinct in the wild.
Kaka beak ranked second in the poll. This form, Clianthus puniceus Albus, is extinct in the wild.
Equal with puawhananga was a forest tree from the northern part of the North Island, puriri (Vitex lucens). It grows to 20m or more and has pretty little pink flowers. We had a huge one in an Auckland garden and despite being told it was easy to grow from seed, all my efforts failed.

Nor did I ever see a puriri moth, New Zealand’s largest moth, with a wingspan of 150mm and stunning green wings. I kept a close eye on holes in the trunk, but the tree was close to a busy road so probably kept this beauty away.

Leptinella rotundata, like the top-ranked pigmy button daisy, L. nana, is a rare native ground...
Leptinella rotundata, like the top-ranked pigmy button daisy, L. nana, is a rare native ground-covering species.
Ours was a listed tree and we were allowed to prune it only by hand. As branches were hefty — forget secateurs or a pruning saw — and could be tackled only from a ladder, I confess our puriri was left au naturel.

This year’s NZPCN favourite plants list is interesting and varied and reflects the organisation’s vision that "the rich, diverse and unique native plant life of New Zealand is recognised, cherished and restored".

 

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