The hidden ‘plants’ of the Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve Network

7th March 2017 | Nicky Davis

Over the last few months a survey of the hidden ‘plants’ of the Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve Network has been underway. While we may know a lot about the diversity of ferns, flowering plants, conifers, grasses and, sadly, also the weeds of the reserve system, very little seems to have been documented about the little ‘plants’ of the area.

By little ‘plants’ we really mean the alga, hornworts, liverworts and mosses (which are plants), and the mycobiota (the fungi and lichens) which actually are not plants at all. This biodiversity is often overlooked because the ‘plants’ involved are so small, or because there are so few people available with the skills needed to identify them.

Dr Peter de Lange, Principal Scientist with the Department of Conservation has at the request of the Kaipatiki Board now started a systematic survey of the ‘little plants’.  So far de Lange, partner and board member Gillian Crowcroft and their son’s Theo and Finn have found one red alga (Bostrychia harveyi) in the upper Kaipatiki headwaters  (this is a seaweed more usually seen on the trunks and pneumatophores (aerial roots) of mangroves in estuaries), one hornwort, over forty kinds of liverwort (including some that are rather uncommon, like Trichocolea hatcherii), 28 mosses and 21 fungi. There will be many more liverworts and mosses than so far recorded. This is because they are easily overlooked, and even when discovered their identification takes time and is best done by consultation with experts as far afield as Paris and Chicago. Currently it is expected that the reserve network may hold at least 200 of the 1300 or so hornworts,  liverworts, and mosses found in New Zealand. Lichen diversity is also expected to be very high. New Zealand has about 3000 different kinds of lichens, preliminary results suggest the the reserve network may hold over 300 different species – though very few of them have been examined so far. The fungi of the reserve are also revealing quite a few surprises.

To highlight the work de Lange cites a greyish mushroom found by his son under a karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus) tree in the upper Kaipatiki catchment. This mushroom turned out to be Dermoloma murinum, a poorly known species that had been described in 1960 from specimens found in the Wellington Botanic Garden and then not seen again until 2 November 2016 when it was discovered in the Mangemangeroa Valley near Howick. The Dermoloma was identified by Dr Jerry Cooper of Landcare Research, who was very pleased with the find. The find highlights a common issue with New Zealand fungi; for all we know Dermoloma may be common but very people know what it is, and you have to be there at the right time to see it. Current indications though are that is truly rather scarce.  The fact that the two of the three known reports of it came from Auckland, and from urban reserves at that highlights the importance of these reserves in protecting indigenous biodiversity, as well as the need to more critically survey them for their plants, fungi and animals.

The second find was made by Peter and Theo whilst traversing a deep gully in a headwater tributary to the Kaipatiki. The de Lange’s noted that the trunk of a nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) palm appeared to have been spray-painted with fluoro-green paint. Although vandalism is an issue in the reserves network it seemed odd that someone would have struggled up this particular side stream just to spray-paint a single palm – but it happens. In this case closer investigation revealed the ‘paint’ was actually a kind of lichen which seems to glow in the dark.  When fresh, under a UV-lamp the lichen glows dark orange-yellow, and when dry bright green. No one in New Zealand knows what lichen it is, though experts in Berlin think it may be a new species of Lepraria a genus of ‘dust lichens’ that really do look like someone has thrown flour over a tree or tree fern trunk.

These are just a few of the highlights of the survey, which is being undertaken ‘for fun’ as and when time permits by a family keen to understand better the hidden diversity of Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve Network.

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