Rare plant in forest has botanists bamboozled

By Eloise Gibson

People can help the species to survive by planting it in their gardens, a DoC botanist says. Photo / Phil Garnock-Jones
People can help the species to survive by planting it in their gardens, a DoC botanist says. Photo / Phil Garnock-Jones

Botanists are calling on home gardeners to help save a native plant, nicknamed "bamboozle" for its confusing beginnings, that has been newly discovered in a forest northwest of Auckland.

Only three white-flowered Veronica jovellanoides have been found in the wild, prompting botanists to ask the public to help save the ground shrub by planting a few in their gardens.

They say the bamboozle is probably doomed in its woodland home, a cool hollow near Woodhill Forest about 30 minutes from Auckland.

It appears to have been saved so far by the chance protection of the 20ha patch of native forest by the Native Forest Restoration Trust.

It earned its nickname after a founding member of the trust, Oratia native plant nursery owner Geoff Davidson, came across it on a stroll through the reserve with field officer Sharon Graham in 2007.

He mistook it for a different plant, only to be bamboozled when the cutting he had taken bloomed into a species that had never been seen before.

After being studied at Auckland University, sent around the world and DNA-analysed, the plant was officially named Veronica jovellanoides and set down in the plant annals of history.

But when botanists went back to look for it, it was nowhere to be found.

"We are talking [about] a patch that was 20 to 30cm across ... All it would have taken was a fern frond to smother it," said Mr Davidson, who spent about 80 hours trying unsuccessfully to re-trace his steps.

A second specimen was eventually found when 40 members of the Auckland Botanical Society got together one day and swept the forest.

Department of Conservation botanist Dr Peter de Lange said the shrub was totally different from other related plants, known as parahebes or veronicas. "It is as important to us as the Hector's dolphin or the albatross," said Mr Davidson.

Apart from its confusing beginnings, what makes the bamboozle even more perplexing is that it seems to be an alpine plant, found with a clutch of other cold-weather species in the balmy north of New Zealand's North Island.

"When we looked at the other plants in the reserve, there were some strange things there for Auckland, and they were all things that would normally grow in much colder conditions," said Mr Davidson.

He said he was particularly pleased to have helped find the plant because he fought to protect the reserve, along the Ararimu River, two decades ago.

Dr de Lange said now the plant had a scientific name, the Department of Conservation could allocate money to protect it. It was unlikely to survive in the wild. The best thing people could do to save it was plant it in their gardens.

Oratia Native Nursery is selling seedlings of the new discovery.

- NZ Herald

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