New Zealand Plants and their Story
The Meadows of the High Mountains
The Meadows of the High Mountains.
To see the really fine displays of flowers which New Zealand can offer, one must seek the high mountains in the summer-time. Here the meadows are true natural gardens. But to view such in full perfection, those places must be visited to which no grazing animals have had access.
The real subalpine and alpine meadow flora begins on the mountains near the East Cape, and extends over the high summits of both Islands to the hills forming the southern part of Stewart Island. The South Island ranges are much richer in species than those of the North Island; but the closeness of growth in many places on the mountains of the latter, as on the Tararuas, Ruahines, and Kaimanawas, makes up for this difference. The mountains of Nelson, both east and west, are very rich in alpine plants. They contain some of the North Island species, together with others peculiar to themselves, and a large percentage of those found farther to the south. To the east the Kaikoura Mountains form a small but distinct district, having some special societies and a number of peculiar plants, of which the remarkable Helichrysum coralloides (the stout stems with closely pressed woolly white leaves looking not unlike coral, hence the name) and a veronica growing on the face of solid rocks (V. rupicola) may be mentioned. Proceeding southwards, we find that the Alps of Canterbury and Westland, crowned in many instances with perpetual ice and snow, form a barrier between the northern and southern alpine plants. These invade this mountain area on its borders, but it has plants peculiarly its own—e.g., Ranunculus Godleyanus, Helichrysum pauciflorum, Myosotis decora.
The Otago alpine plants differ considerably as to species from those of Canterbury and Westland, and still more from those of Nelson and the North Island. Peculiar species are, Veronica Hectori, Celmisia Pelriei, Aciphylla simplex, Ranunculus Matthewsii,&c. Finally, Stewart Island and the mountains of Southland have much in commonpage 89
These high mountain meadows are by no means closely growing associations of plants. On the contrary, these latter are generally in clumps, or dotted about, the ground between being quite bare, and the amount of bareness is governed by the rainfall. Thus, where the latter is great and the number of rainy days excessive, there is little bare ground except on the steepest slopes and near the mountain-tops, while on the mountains of Stewart Island the meadow is largely made up of bog-plants of the cushion form, through which grows a very strange grass (Danthonia pungens), with extremely rigid and sharp-pointed leaves (fig. 39).
If a foreign botanist, conversant with the alpine plants of other regions, were to visit a high mountain meadow in New Zealand, he would be amazed at the prevalence of white and yellow flowers, and the almost entire lack of reds and blues. His eye would encounter no blue gentians, no pink primulas. He would be much less surprised at seeing plant forms very similar to those of other alpine regions, yet bearing flowers quite different from his old acquaintances—i.e., belonging to other families. This latter fact he would find an admirable illustration of the phenomenon that similar conditions evoke or preserve similar life-forms even in regions widely remote. As for the prevalence of white and yellow flowers, he would possibly have no suggestion of any moment to offer beyond that the white might be adapted for fertilisation at night-time by moths, and that yellow is a most frequent colour amongst flowers everywhere.
But if there is some monotony as far as the colour of our alpine flowers goes, there is none in regard to their form. The herbaceous plants, of the European Alps in many instances die to the ground yearly, whereas those of New Zealand are mostly evergreen. The spear-grasses (Aciphylla) are of the Yucca form. Some are frequently cultivated in European gardens, but others still more handsome are unknown there. Aciphylla Colensoi, var. conspicua, derives its varietal name from the broad band of orange down the centre of each leaf-segment, which renders it an especially striking plant. Aciphylla Monroi, growing a few inches high out of a face of rock, looks not unlike a pigmy palm. A. Dobsoni has leaves of the most intense rigidity.
Fig. 40.—Euphrasia Monroi, growing in bed of Punch-bowl Creek, near where the Arthur's Pass Tunnel is being constructed, surrounded by Raoulia tenuicaulis.
[Photo, L. Cockayne.
Fig. 41.—Veronica linifolia towards centre, Raoulia tenuicaulis on right, and one plant of Angelica Gingidium growing on the latter. Mountain above Arthur's Pass.
[Photo, L. Cockayne.
Fig. 42.—The Mountain-lily (Ranunculus Lyallii), growing on stony ground near source of River Rakaia.
[Photo, M. C. Gudex.
Generic names are frequently hideous, but in Celmisia we have one dainty enough to take a foremost place among those feminine floral appellations now so popular. And well does a race of plants so beautiful deserve a fitting title. On every mountain-side at all seasons it is the celmisias (figs. 43 and 44) that give the characteristic stamp to the meadows, filling the air with aromatic fragrance, and delighting the eye with their beauty of form or abundance of flowers. With one page 95exception, all are true New-Zealanders, and are probably a remnant of the long-vanished meadow plants of sunken southern lands. Two special classes occur—those with fine upright rosettes, and those which trail over a considerable area, forming round mats. Some, again, have quite small rosettes, and form dense, silvery cushions, such as Celmisia sessiliflora and C. argentea (fig. 45). The most handsome of the celmisias is perhaps C. coriacea, a plant with large, stiff, silvery leaves, and flower-heads several inches in diameter.
Fig. 44.—Subalpine Meadow, Arthur's Pass, with colony of Celmisia Armstrongii In background, tussocks of the grass Danthonia Raoulii. In centre, mat of Celmisia discolor var. petiolata.
[Photo, L. Cockayne.
Senecio scorzonerioides, notwithstanding its being burdened with its second name, is one of the most showy of New Zealand plants. The author will never forget the meadows near the source of the River Poulter, gleaming like snowfields with the multitudes of its pure blossoms.
Frequently the meadow is dotted with veronicas and other shrubs. Large breadths of an alpine Astelia are often present, also tall tussock-grasses such as Danthonia Raoulii and D. flavescens.page 96
* Myosotis australis, M. Traversii, M. albo-sericea, M. Monroi. Some have white flowers (M. Cheesemanii, M. explanata), or white with a yellow eye (M. Goyeni, M. petiolata).