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Olearia gardneri discovery

Olearia gardneri discovery

18 February 2016

Covenanting enquiry with QEII leads to exciting discovery of rare plant

A Wairarapa farmer's tentative enquiry about covenanting a small bush remnant on the farm has resulted in the exciting discovery of a population of Olearia garneri (Gardner's tree daisy), one of New Zealand's rarest plants.

QEII National Trust's local representative, Trevor Thompson, stumbled across the plants when he was assessing the site's suitability for covenanting.

Until this discovery, the total number of known plants in the wild was estimated at 160, scattered in small isolated populations, mostly around Taihape, but with a few isolated plants in the Wairarapa. Those statistics made Olearia gardneri about as rare as our critically endangered kakapo.

Mr Thompson has since counted 374 specimens at the site and, unlike some of the populations elsewhere that only contain adult plants, he has found plants of all ages and sizes. The discovery has more than tripled the known numbers of the plant and will hopefully lower its threat status from Threatened - Nationally Critical to Threatened - Nationally Endangered.

Landowner, Jane McKay, says she has her son, Tom, to thank for the discovery.

'We had talked about protecting the bush, but I felt a bit shy about it as I wasn't sure it would meet covenanting criteria. Tom was keen though, so we got Trevor over to take a look,' she said.

Tom said he felt inspired to protect the bush after talking to his friend whose parents had covenanted some bush on their farm.
'I thought we should do the same with the bit of bush we had as well,' he said.

Ms McKay said she is thrilled to have such a rare plant on the farm and is determined to protect it and support its recovery. A management plan has been developed to enhance the current population, introduce plants to other tiny populations in Wairarapa, and set up new populations in other suitable covenanted sites.

Local Forest and Bird members are helping out, clearing weeds from the site and collecting seeds and cuttings which have been passed on to Norfolk Road Native Nursery to grow for the plant's recovery programme. Already 200 plants are ready for planting out in autumn this year.

Because of the site's importance, Greater Wellington Regional Council has supported covenanting costs with a higher than normal funding allocation to help with fencing off the site and will also be helping with old man's beard control.

Mr Thompson said the discovery is a highlight of his career.

'The site didn't look that special from a distance and finding the population was completely unexpected. For me, it drives home the fact that landowners should never feel shy about proposing covenants.

'Sometimes they might think the bit of bush at the back of the farm is nothing special, but it just goes to show that you never know what taonga it might be sheltering,' he said.

Olearia gardneri is a member of the tree daisy family. It is only found in the North Island of New Zealand, in Wairarapa, Rangitikei, and formerly Hawke's Bay. It is pollinated by insects and its seeds have a dandelion-like parachute that helps them travel on the wind. Fortunately, grazing animals don't particularly like to eat it.

Olearia gardneri may have had a pivotal role in helping to heal land slips, being replaced by larger forest trees over time. It is deciduous. May is the best time to spot it, because its yellowing leaves stand out. It supports at least nine moth species, five of which are tree daisy specialists (source Department of Conservation).


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