Eco-sourced seeds contributing to plant species with conservation importance in Tāmaki Makaurau
26 May 2023

When Derek Craig, Restoration Nursery Manager at Kaipātiki Project sat down to read Auckland Council’s newly published report titled “Conservation status of vascular plant species in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland 2023” then mapped those species against Kaipātiki Project nursery’s species spreadsheet he was chuffed to realise that of the 96 species of vascular plants he grows in the nursery, 21 of them (22%) are listed as ‘at risk’ or worse. They range from one of the smallest plants we grow, Leptinella dioica Bachelor’s Button to the largest Agathis Australis Kauri. I’m certainly not chuffed that any plant species are at risk, but it highlights the importance of our nursery and restoration plant selections and contribution to the wider conservation of vascular plants in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

My first comment to Derek was,” That’s great, but what is a vascular plant? I’m not a botanist or ecologist." Derek explained that Tracheophyta, their scientific name, form a large group of land plants that have a specialised system for carrying fluids that include xylem (important for transporting water) and phloem (essential for transporting minerals and nutrients) and possess true roots, stem and leaves. "Oh, so a bit like a human vascular or lymphatic system," I replied. "What would be an example of a non-vascular plant then??” I went on to ask. "Moss or algae,” promptly responded Derek. Righto that’s Botany 101 out of the way. 

Derek then went on to explain that Tāmaki Makaurau region was once covered in a rich, diverse rainforest. Today, due to historic milling, clearance for farming and disturbance for development, these forests have regrown into thousands of individual fragments from less than 1ha to the 17,000ha of forest in the Hunua Ranges.

Most existing areas of native forest in the region (approximately 80 %%) are small forest fragments of less than 10ha, many located on private land or what we see here in our local area such as Eskdale Reserve.

Auckland Council assessed the conservation status of all known indigenous vascular plants in using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) which was no small undertaking and the first time they had facilitated this assessment. 

A total of 786 vascular plant species were identified as present in Tāmaki Makaurau. The reported results showed:

  • 200 species were assessed as Threatened.
  • 105 as At Risk.
  • 4 as Non-resident Native (Regional Vagrant or Coloniser).
  • 88 as Data Deficient.
  • 27 have become extinct or may have formerly occurred in the region.
  • A total of 45% of vascular plant species are Threatened or At Risk

Back to the good news, Derek was chuffed about earlier. 

“At Kaipātiki Project we, the staff and volunteers run a thriving but small by commercial standards native plant nursery where we grow 40,000+ eco-sourced native plants every year. The plants are for community restoration projects, private backyard programmes, the Auckland Mayor’s Million Trees project and other inspiring destinations across the Kaipātiki and wider Auckland area.”

“We grow plants for different habitats and are guided by Auckland Council’s list of suggested plants for certain areas and often refer to Auckland Botanical Society’s crawl survey which has an extensive list of plant species to consider growing. Auckland Council produces a series of pamphlets on what to grow in certain areas which are a helpful resource and guide.” 

“One question we are currently grappling with is how we get native plants into home gardens on patios with the increasing intensification of housing. Native plants are often not perceived as exotic or “pretty” although to be fair a renaissance is starting to occur to change this. Native jasmine, passionfruit flower, and clematis are all examples of climbing plants that are natives. Not all climbers are weeds.” 

“One of the challenges we face in the nursery given our small size is that restoration groups usually plan in January to plant in May/June, but it can sometimes take us 2-3 years or more to grow a plant species ready for planting. Miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea) for example, can take 3-4 years in seed then 5 years to grow before ready for sale. Plant selection and forward planning can be tricky given the required growth periods for each species. Restoration systems need a plan made at least 10 years in advance.” 

“If I’d had a crystal ball prior to the January 2023 floods in Auckland, I would have arranged for more Carex grass, a clay bank stabilising species native to Aotearoa, to be grown in the nursery and planted around Tāmaki Makaurau’s shoreline. We would have seen a lot less slips occur.” 

"It’s important to grow and plant a diverse range of native plant species to provide food all year round. Birds carry and spread seeds which encourages a diverse self-supporting system. We don’t encourage growing too many of the same species together, known as a monoculture e.g., Mānuka and Kānuka. It’s possible to get issues with interbreeding. You’ve got to maintain diversity of plant species in forests and reserves.“ 

"I must admit that reading the Auckland Council report has influenced my species selection
decision-making. Lobelia Angulata (pānakenake) for example, a native white flowering groundcover with red berries in autumn that are attractive to birds was on the Auckland Council's list of species to save. I was going to ditch it as no one was buying or using it but now we are going to grow some in the nursery because of the report." 

Written by Delia Middleton, Volunteer Writer