Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Great Veronica Hunt —Part 6.

I'm writing this in Melbourne, where I'm about to fly home after a wonderful three weeks in Australia. I wasn't specifically on a Veronica hunt, but kept my eyes open anyway, just in case.

I didn't see any Veronica in Queensland or around Sydney. The first I saw was the introduced V. arvensis in Bega, a small New South Wales town.  Australia has many of the same weedy speedwells that New Zealand does, so I was more interested to see plants of the indigenous species.
Mallacoota inlet, Vic.
We spent a couple of days with friends at Mallacoota in the far east of Victoria, and there came across V. plebeia growing beside a track in coastal forest in the wonderfully-named Croajingalong National Park.
Veronica plebeia, Mallacoota, Vic.
The flowers were closed just as they often are in New Zealand, needing a warm sunny day to open.  If they don't get to open, I assume they self-pollinate, because they always seem to set fruits.

The flower below was photographed on a cultivated plant in New Zealand, where V. plebeia is widespread and considered by some botanists to be native.  It is introduced and weedy in some other parts of the world though, so it does have the ability to be invasive.
Veronica plebeia, from a cultivated plant in New Zealand.
That was it for wild speedwells the whole trip, but my sister-in-law, near Ballarat, had some small plants of another Australian native, Veronica gracilis, ready to plant out in the garden, and one of these was in flower.
Veronica gracilis, cultivated near Ballarat, Vic.
The plants are strongly rhizomatous, and this one even had a shoot coming out of the drainage hole in the bottom of its pot.

Australia has 23 native species of Veronica, classified in section Labiatoides, and they are the sister group to the large New Zealand clade (section Hebe) that includes the hebes and their relatives (Albach & Briggs 2012).  Thus, although they look much more like northern speedwells than New Zealand hebes, they are known to be more closely related to the hebes.  And because of that fact, it's misleading to classify them as Veronica unless you classify our hebes in Veronica as well.


Albach, D; Briggs, BG. 2012. Phylogenetic analysis of Australian species of Veronica (V. section Labiatoides; Plantaginaceae). Australian Systematic Botany, 2012, 25, 353363

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wednesday wildflower: Diddillibah wildflowers.

This week I’m on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, visiting family before the Australasian Systematic Botany Society’s conference in Sydney next week.  We arrived last night and this morning took a short walk to get a feel for our surroundings, from Diddillibah to the Maroochy River and back.
Maroochy River
We haven’t seen much natural vegetation yet, but plenty of wildflowers and a few native Eucalypts and she-oaks.
Mangroves, Maroochy River.
Along the river are mangroves, which I assume are the same as we have in New Zealand, Avicennia marina.  It reaches its southern limit—and the southern limit of mangroves generally—at Corner Inlet, Victoria.  Here, in the warmer climate, they grow taller.
Mistletoe in a Casuarina tree.
There were mistletoes in the she-oak (Casuarina) trees near the river.
Mistletoe flower buds.
I think this little weed is Emilia sonchifolia, something I’ve collected before, in Singapore; at least I think it’s the same.  
Emilia sonchifolia

Its resemblance to sow-thistle (Sonchus) is remarkable, but it’s convergence, because this isn’t in the same tribe.
Emilia sonchifolia flower head.
The single row of involucral bracts is characteristic of tribe Senecioneae, whereas Sonchus is in the Lactuceae.

And there was a pelican on the river. Nice.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A new classification for the southern beeches.
In New Zealand, the forest we typically identify with—the “bush”— is the lowland mixed conifer-angiosperm forest, with a canopy usually of angiosperm trees like tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa) or kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) and large emergent conifers of the southern families Podocarpaceae (e.g., rimu, Dacrydium cupressinum) and Araucariaceae (i.e., kauri, Agathis australis).  But in most montane parts of the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) and on often drier ridges and hill country of the North Island (Te Ika A Māui), a very different type of forest is dominant.  This forest comprises a uniform canopy of often a single species of southern beech.  Usually the forest doesn’t have a dense understory, giving an open and well-lit appearance to the interior.  This is just as much an iconic New Zealand forest as the “bush”, and one that’s familiar to many trampers.
Southern beech forest, Orongorongo Valley, near Wellington
Similar forests are found in the southern part of South America, so that travelers there from New Zealand often feel it’s just like home.  Southern beech forest also occurs in Australia, New Guinea and New Caledonia.  It’s known from fossils in Antarctica too, going back to the Cretaceous, as well as in many of the places where it still occurs today.

The southern beeches were originally classified in the genus Fagus, along with their northern namesakes, but by 1850 their differences had been recognised and they were transferred to the genus Nothofagus (the name means southern beech [correction, 21 Nov 2013: it means "false beech"; southern beech would be Notofagus.  H/T Rosi]).  As Nothofagus, the southern beeches have been important trees in New Zealand ecology, conservation, forestry, and biogeography.  Whole books have been written about them.  Nothofagus is currently reckoned to have about 40 species.  In 1962, a Russian botanist, Lyudmila Kuprianova, went a step further and proposed a new family, Nothofagaceae, for the southern beeches.  This took rather a while to be accepted.

Many botanists have wrestled with the relationships of the species within Nothofagus, using sometimes single or few characteristics, other times multiple ones.  The advents of (1) cladistic thinking (using explicit evolutionary trees) and (2) molecular characteristics from DNA sequencing have been of major help to this enterprise, because DNA has provided a wealth of new characters that are independent of the morphological ones and because the analysis and interpretation are out in the open for everyone to evaluate.  Pretty quickly, the understanding of relationships in the southern beeches has converged on a single well-supported arrangement, which was arranged into a classification by Australian botanists Bob Hill and Jenny Read, who recognised one genus (Nothofagus) with four subgenera.
Southern beech forest near Eastbourne, Wellington.
Beyond the southern beeches, DNA sequence data were also telling us a lot about the relationships of southern beeches to the oaks, beeches, chestnuts and she-oaks and it became pretty clear that Kuprianova was correct in isolating them in their own family.  It turns out that the ancestor of the beech order (Order Fagales) first divided into two species: one that was the common ancestor of the northern sweet chestnuts, beeches & oaks, she-oaks, myrtles, and more—seven families in all—and the other that was the common ancestor of just Nothofagus.  If you were to divide Fagales into two suborders, one would have seven families and many genera, the other would have just one family, and that family would have just one genus.  Thus Nothofagus and Nothofagaceae have different ranks (their place in the hierarchical classification) but identical circumscriptions (the species they contain); that redundancy means we're not using the available hierarchy of ranks to full advantage.

What’s more, the current classification of all the southern beeches in one genus Nothofagus can be a bit misleading.  Most biologists agree that it’s absolutely essential that every genus or family should contain closest relatives.  In other words, a species shouldn’t be more closely related to a member of another genus than it is to a species that’s classified in its own genus.  Nothofagus doesn’t break that rule: every species of Nothofagus is more closely related to every other species than it is to any species that’s not placed in Nothofagus.  So far, so good.

But it’s easy to assume that our New Zealand species—black, hard, red, mountain and silver beeches—might be each other’s nearest relatives, and often people are surprised to find that’s not the case.  In fact, hard, black, mountain, and red beeches are related, but silver beech’s nearest relative is in Australia.  Wouldn’t it be better if their classification and their scientific names could reflect that?

This week two New Zealand botanists, Peter Heenan and Rob Smissen from Landcare Research, have revisited the classification of the southern beeches (Heenan & Smissen 2013).  They brought together everything that’s been published so far, from both morphology and molecular systematics, and added some new data and analyses of their own.  Their findings are pretty much the same as several previous reports, but they can now place greater levels of confidence in the groups they recognise.  They comprehensively discuss alternative classifications and alternative criteria and come down with what I think is the most sensible classification. 

Nothfagaceae now contains four genera.
  • Nothofagus comprises just five species from temperate South America.  The rest of the family is no longer classified as Nothofagus.
  • Lophozonia is a reinstated genus, containing seven species from South America, New Zealand, and Australia.  
  • Fuscospora has six species and a very similar distribution; it’s a newly recognised genus, although like the others it has been treated as a subgenus in the past.  Additionally in Fuscospora, this paper promotes mountain beech to species rank as F. cliffortioides.  I look forward to reading the evidence for that change, because it was previously treated just as a variety of black beech.
  • Finally, Trisyngyne is the largest genus (25 species) and found today in the tropics: New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and extending into Indonesia.  
These genera are strongly supported by both molecular, morphological, and chemical characteristics, and they have symbiotic fungi and parasitic fungi and insects that also seem to recognise their relationships.
Red beech, Fuscospora fusca.
Black beech, Fuscospora solandri.
Mountain beech, Fuscospora cliffortioides, near Cass, Canterbury.
Hard beech, Fuscospora truncata
Silver beech, Lophozonia menziesii.
When we use these new names for the New Zealand plants, we see immediately that we have two natural groups represented here: Fuscospora and Lophozonia.  New Zealand no longer has any species of Nothofagus.
Red beech, Fuscospora fusca, Tunnel Gully near Wellington.
A final word of a more general nature.  Some people will want to reject this change, perhaps because they feel nostalgic about the name Nothofagus, or perhaps because they feel name changes are disruptive.  But taxonomy is science and there are scientific criteria involved.  Like climate change, evolution, and vaccination, you can’t simply reject sound science because you don’t like it.  
Silver beech, Lophozonia menziesii, Haast Pass.
It’s very rare in science for there to be two equally well-supported positions such that users are free to choose whichever one they prefer.  Rather, scientists make decisions after critically considering the evidence.  It's true a classification is a human construct, but it's based on facts about evolutionary history.  Those facts are hard-won data from the field, herbarium, and genetics lab.  If your opinion contradicts those facts, then you're at risk of denying the science.

In this case however, both the old classification and the new one do pass the most important test, that of classifying related species together, so we can't rule out one or the other on that ground.  The question here is, "what's the appropriate rank for these four well-supported groups?"  But is one answer better than the other?  Heenan and Smissen argue strongly and in detail that there are good reasons to prefer their new scheme over the old one.  For instance, they show that the newly-recognised genera are at least as old, diverse, and distinct as established genera in the other families of the order, that the new names are more informative about relationships among the southern beeches, and that a redundant grouping has now been eliminated.  They conclude, and I agree, that these benefits far outweigh the temporary disruption of having new names to learn.
An Australian beech, Lophozonia moorei, growing at Eastwoodhill.

Heenan, P.B.; Smissen, R.D. (2013). Revised circumscription of Nothofagus and recognition of the segregate genera Fuscospora, Lophozonia, and Trisyngyne (Nothofagaceae) Phytotaxa, 146 DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.146.1.1

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

New associations good and bad.
The word weed can be a hard one to define.  Most people accept that a weed is a plant growing where it’s unwanted, something that’s in the way, or that stops the flower or crop you’re trying to grow from growing, or interferes with valued native vegetation.  When you think about it that way, it’s clear that one person’s crop or wildflower can easily be, or become, another’s weed.  Unfortunately, the corollary is that one person’s pest might be another’s treasure.
Ngaio, Myoporum laetum.
Last week I wrote about the common confusion between New Zealand and Tasmanian ngaio, and how in New Zealand the latter is sometimes planted unintentionally in place of the former.  Our native ngaio, although prone to self-seeding in gardens and capable of fast growth, is never really a weed here.  But it is a pest plant in California, along with some others of our native flora, like pōhutukawa and cabbage trees.  This is the story of the rise and fall of ngaio in California, as told in a recent research paper by Jon Sullivan of Lincoln University (Sullivan 2013).

Ngaio was introduced into California as an ornamental tree and widely planted around the middle of last century, mostly using a California-derived cultivar, M. laetum ‘Carsonii’. It’s the 18th most common street tree in San Francisco and is valued for its fast growth and salt tolerance near the sea.  From widespread plantings in Southern California, ngaio has spread into many wild and semi-wild communities from Sonoma County southwards to Baja California in Mexico.  It forms a dense canopy that shades out other plants and the dry woody centres of the trees are considered a fire risk.  The trees even re-sprout after fire or herbicide spray treatment, so they’re hard to get rid of.

The core of Sullivan’s paper describes the effects of the chance introduction of a tiny insect, a kind of thrips (the singular and plural are both thrips).  This thrips, Klambothrips myopori,  feeds on the leaves and shoots of plants of Myoporum and seems to have got there from Australia, where New Zealand ngaio isn't native, but where other species of Myoporum are.  Although it was first described and named from Californian collections, later a small population was discovered on boobialla in Tasmania.  And its closest relative is also in Australia, so it’s likely the insect is a dinkum Aussie and a newcomer to California.  Most likely, Myoporum thrips got accidentally introduced to California, maybe via the airline routes that converge on Los Angeles.  It probably wouldn’t have become established there, except that there were already large populations of planted and weedy ngaio for it to feed upon.  

And it got stuck in.  It's taken it about five years to kill about half the ngaios in Southern California, and the remaining live ones are looking pretty sick.

Thrips are small slender insects with fringed wings.  They mostly feed on plant sap, which they do through mouth-parts that are modified for piercing plant tissue.  A thrips infestation typically produces silvery or bronze patches on shoots and leaves, where sap has been drawn out of the cells.  Affected young ngaio shoots turn brown and the leaves are distorted.  Sullivan found high densities of nymphs and adults on affected trees in California. Other thrips are pollen feeders and are often seen in flowers, where some botanists believe they can be significant pollinators.

This inadvertent spread of thrips to California is an excellent outcome for environmental managers trying to deal with the Californian ngaio outbreak.  To introduce a biological control agent these days involves a paper war of bureaucracy, and rightly so, because they can have unintended consequences.  But in California, nature—or at least accident—had already done the job.  So, all good, you might say.

The success of Myoporum thrips in California seems to support an idea that ecologists call the New Associations Hypothesis.  The idea is that when a host-specialised organism—like a thrips that feeds only on Myoporum—comes into contact with a naive host, one that hasn’t been exposed to it before, then all hell breaks loose (for the host).  The best-known historical examples are probably the human populations that hadn’t ever been exposed to European diseases, like smallpox and measles.  Because long-distance dispersal to islands is a filter that only some organisms get through, it might be that our ngaio and other native plants have evolved in New Zealand without some or all of the parasites and predators that would damage them in their countries of origin.  If they’ve let their guard down, so to speak, then introduction of those parasites and predators by human activity could be a disaster for them.
So, what if this thrips ever makes its way to New Zealand?  We now know it can and will happily eat ngaio, and we know it has the potential to hitch rides in aircraft.  It’s yet another pest we need to watch for at the border.  Presumably in Australia, the thrips and the Myoporum have evolved together and the plants have enough defenses not to be wiped out.  But we can see what might happen here by looking at Hawai'i.  There, the Myoporum thrips has already been introduced, again probably unintentionally and perhaps from California, and it’s taken to their native species of Myoporum, M. sandwicense, with gusto.
A branch of boobialla, M. insulare.
If that calamity happens here, we can only hope the thrips prefer the introduced boobialla or Tasmanian ngaio (M. insulare) to our native ngaio, M. laetum.  My guess, and Sullivan’s too, is it’s more likely to be the other way round, because boobialla is likely to have more tolerance to thrips.  Add that to people planting the wrong species, and in the future we might find our ngaio replaced by boobialla almost everywhere.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Wednesday Wildflower: boobialla (Tasmanian ngaio)

Bird-dispersed woody weeds are some of the worst, and many in New Zealand are escapes from horticulture.  Sometimes there are similar native and weedy species that can be confused.
Shoots of ngaio (left) and boobialla.
Ngaio is a case in point.  True ngaio, Myoporum laetum, is a native plant, and a good one to use in revegetation projects because it's easy and quick to grow.  But the problem is there's also an introduced Myoporum from Tasmania, M. insulare, which is also quick-growing.  If the Tasmanian ngaio, often known by its Australian common name, boobialla, is misidentified as the New Zealand native, then it can become widespread in an area by accident.  Because they're both bird-dispersed, both ngaios can spread rapidly.
Plantings between Nelson and Atawhai.
There's a good example of this in Nelson, between the city and Atawhai.  Alongside a new walkway/cycleway, an attractive native revegetation area is flourishing.  Many native trees and shrubs are doing well there, such as Griselinia litoralis, Cordyline australis, Dodonaea viscosa, Phormium tenax, and Coprosma robusta.  Unfortunately, most of the ngaio planted there is the wrong species: boobialla.
New leaves of ngaio (left) and boobialla.
The two are quite similar.  Ngaio has purplish brown new leaves at the tips of the shoots while those of boobialla are green.
Leaves of ngaio (left) and boobialla.
The leaves of ngaio have more obvious glandular dots than boobialla does.

Flowers of ngaio (left) and boobialla.
The flowers are a bit different too: those of boobialla are a bit smaller, more symmetrical, and have fewer and less obvious dots on the corolla.

While we can grumble about an Australian plant taking over the role of ngaio in New Zealand, the New Zealand ngaio isn't wanted everywhere.  It's becoming a weed in California, along with cabbage tree and pōhutukawa.  I'll post soon about an interesting new research paper that deals with this.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Wednesday wildflower: Indian mustard.

Chance can be an important aspect of biological discovery, even very minor discoveries such as I'm describing today, but a prepared mind is an essential complementary aspect to it.  Yesterday I went home from work by a new route, governed by two objectives: to get some eye bolts from the hardware store to support the earthquake-proofing at home, and to collect Veronica hulkeana flowers from the University grounds to photograph.  So I was walking an unusual route between the hardware store and the University when I saw a mustard that looked unfamiliar, growing in a small front yard of a cottage, right up against the house.  
Brassica juncea, Vivian Street Wellington city.
I had a good look over the fence, but I didn't want to trespass, and this morning I went past again, wondering if I should knock on the door and ask permission to collect.  Then I noticed there were half a dozen plants of it, and one or two branches were poking outside the boundary over the footpath: fair game!  So I quickly grabbed a sample and brought it with me to work and spent a happy half-hour keying it out to Indian mustard, Brassica juncea.

Flowering branch, about to be made into a herbarium specimen.
Indian mustard is an Asian Brassica that has been collected only occasionally in New Zealand.  The Flora of New Zealand Vol. 4 describes its distribution as Northland, and the NZPCN website shows several additional records from Auckland City.  These are vigorous plants, up to 80 cm tall.  They're hairless, and have stout stems with wide pith in the centre.  
Brassica juncea: upper leaf
The leaves are bright green; the stem leaves coarsely toothed, the upper ones becoming simple and linear.  The technical details needed for identification include: 

sepals erecto-patent; 

petals bright yellow; stamens 6, the outer spreading (a bit); 

ovary with one vein on each valve, seeds in one row, gynophore absent; style about 4 mm long at this early fruiting stage; stigma capitate.

These plants have coarsely toothed leaves, matching the cultivated variety mizuna.  There seems to be some confusion whether mizuna is B. rapa or B. juncea, and maybe forms of both species are grown under that name.  These ones though are not B. rapa, which, along with B. oleracea and B. napus, has distinctive glaucous and stem-clasping upper leaves.  It's a plant that has become popular in supermarket salads, so I expect more people are growing it these days, and so it's more likely to escape into the wild.  That's good for wild food foragers.

When plant distributions spread southwards, it's tempting to think it might be something to do with global warming.  But weed distributions are governed by all sorts of things, not least by chance, such as the accident of their place of introduction.  It'll be interesting to see if this Brassica spreads further in Wellington and if it's already established in other parts of the city.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Great Veronica Hunt — part 5.

(Note: I've updated this post on 28 September, giving the name of the botanist whose advice led me to these two Veronicas and whose collections in New Zealand herbaria verify those discoveries.  The changes are underlined.)
If you've been paying attention, and I'm sure you have, you'll notice I haven't posted the Great Veronica Hunt part 4, but that's what I should have called this post a couple of weeks ago.  So, skipping part 4, here's part 5.

In part 1, I described trying to find Veronica peregrina last year.  That was frustrating, because although I had a very accurate description of the location and the habitat, I was there too late in the season. To make it worse, the original collector—Whanganui botanist Colin Ogle— hadn't seen it there for a few years and doubted it would still be present.  Still, Colin had told me last autumn of a site for another species I need to photograph, V. chamaedrys, so yesterday I went after them both.

Veronica peregrina plants, Kakariki.
It took a while to find V. peregrina, but it is still there.  It was growing in silty gravel at the edges of dried up puddles in a rough vehicle track.  The biggest plants were about 75 mm tall, and the small white flowers weren't fully open on a rather dull day.  I brought some plants back to photograph, some to grow, and some to make a couple of herbarium specimens.
Veronica peregrina
This is an American plant, and it seems to be often associated with railways in the States, so it's interesting that this site is right beside the main trunk railway, at Kakariki, near Marton.  I don't know whether the activities of railways spread seeds around or whether they create suitable habitats, or maybe it's just a coincidence.

V. peregrina plants are bright green and either have no hairs or very few long glandular ones.  Their flowers are pure white, an unusual colour for a northern hemisphere Veronica (most are blue), but a common colour among our native species (only a few of which are blue).

While at Kakariki, I'd promised a colleague I'd look for spore-bearing cones on Equisetum arvense, which is naturalised along the banks of the Rangitikei River.  I'd seen it there in abundance last trip, so I confidently went down to the river.  However the river banks have been extensively sprayed, and, while it hasn't completely cleared the infestation, it's knocked it back pretty severely.  Eventually I managed to find a single cone, and took photographs and a specimen.
Equisetum arvense

Equisetum (horsetail) is an odd plant, now known to belong among the ferns. The cones produce not seeds, but spores (pine cones produce spores too: male cones make male spores that develop into multicellular pollen grains before they're dispersed, and in the familiar female cones the spores are retained, develop there, and after fertilisation each develops into parts of a seed).  Horsetail spores are formed in cylindrical sporangia underneath the hexagonal umbrella-like scales on the cone, which spread apart to release them.
Equisetum arvense, spore-bearing cone.
Then it was on to Marton for lunch and through Whanganui to the hill country inland from Kaiiwi. Colin Ogle had told me of a locality for Veronica chamaedrys, a plant I'd seen and photographed in England and France, but one that's naturalised in a few scattered localities in New Zealand.

Veronica chamaedrys,  St. Léon sur Vézère, Dordogne, France.
Here in the bush it grows around the edges of a small clearing in an old waterworks reserve.  How it got here is anyone's guess, but it's well-established in a small area.  We were too early for flowers, but it's a vigorous plant and I'm sure we can grow it on at home in a semi-shaded spot.  If this works, I'll post photos later.
Veronica chamaedrys at the edge of the clearing
The roadside cliffs through the bush were covered in flowering plants of Ourisia macrophylla subsp. macrophylla, and some of them were pink-flowered, at least in the bud.  I'd never seen such colour in New Zealand Ourisia, but in South America there are both red- and pink-flowered members of this genus.
Pink Ourisia.
It's always odd going back to Whanganui.  That's where we first settled when we emigrated to New Zealand in 1955.  I started school there (this is me on the left end of the middle row), and we used to swim at Kaiiwi Beach.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Wednesday wildflower: Veronica hederifolia

Last week I was at Lincoln, near Christchurch, working in the herbarium at Landcare Research.  I was checking my descriptions and identifying specimens towards my Veronica treatment for the new on line Flora of New Zealand, the eFlora.
Veronica hederifolia growing at the foot of an oak tree in the Liffey Domain, Lincoln.
One of the introduced species (there are about 20 of them) that I hadn't yet seen grows right there in Lincoln, so it seemed a good opportunity for a field trip to collect and photograph it.  Veronica hederifolia plants are soft annual herbs that creep along the ground.  Their flowers appear to be solitary in the axils of the upper leaves, but that depends on an interpretation.  Leaves that don't produce flowers are opposite, but there's a shift to alternate leaves, each of which has a flower in its axil.  It's probably reasonable as an alternative interpretation to consider this to be the initiation of a terminal inflorescence. In any case the leaf form doesn't change, whereas in many Veronica the flowers are produced in the axils of much smaller and simpler leaves, which are designated as bracts.
Veronica hederifolia growth form.
V. hederifolia has been growing there in Lincoln along the banks of the L2 river for over 50 years.  The botanist who collected it last—in 1985—was able to tell me exactly where to look, and there it was. There's one other collection in Landcare's herbarium, from St Mary's College grounds in Christchurch, and the Flora refers to other verified locations in Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, and Southland.

Although V. hederifolia looks a bit like V. persica in the way it grows, there are a lot of clear differences.  The leaf shape for one, but also the flowers are smaller, and the anthers are held right against the stigma so it self-pollinates, in spite of producing lots of nectar.  The fruits of V. hederifolia are hairless, circular, and barely notched, whereas fruits of V. persica are hairy along the edges of two widely diverging lobes.
Veronica hederifolia flower.
The calyx lobes are folded length-wise and have long hairs along their edges.
Veronica hederifolia, calyx.
I've taken a few small plants to try to grow it on at home, but annuals can be hard to transplant, so I'm hoping fruits and seeds will be ready when I go back to Lincoln next month.  Then I'll be able to finish my description by describing fruits and seeds and bring home some seeds to grow in the garden.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Disaster tourism.

I lived in Christchurch for 22 years from 1972 until 1994.  Last week I went back for the first time since the earthquakes that shattered the city and eastern suburbs in 2010 and 2011.  I visited friends who kindly took me on a tour of the damage and the restoration; sadly there's still more of the former than the latter in evidence.  I felt reluctant to rubber-neck, but my friends wanted me to see it, because, like many in the city, they feel the rest of the country has forgotten them.  I don't think we have; well, I certainly haven't.  It's just that there's not a lot one can do at a distance, and it seems true that one of the things we can't do at a distance is understand.

We started the tour with breakfast at a cafe on the Port Hills, overlooking the city.  It was a splendid sunny spring morning, and everything looked pretty good from here.  Then we drove over the hills to Lyttelton, pretty close to the epicentre of the February 22 earthquake that did the worst of the damage.

If you didn't know Lyttelton and Christchurch before the quakes, the following photos aren't going to mean much.  Lyttelton was a delightful small harbour town that time had passed by.  The main business district was a couple of blocks near the port, with lovely old 2—3-story buildings.  It's nearly all gone.  The scene below shows one of the many bomb-site spaces where buildings once stood.  A few are still standing, with their windows boarded over and tarpaulins stretched across the roofs; others have broken windows letting the elements invade the interiors.

The facade of this smaller building is still standing, thanks to strong timber props.

But in the middle of the desolation and fenced off stony spaces choked with weeds, space hijackers have made a mark, and provided places where people gather to enjoy the sun and each other. Everywhere I went were places like this, with thriving markets, buskers, and throngs of people.  I don't know which were sanctioned by the council and which were more subversive.

From Lyttelton we went through the tunnel (undamaged, except for the portal building, now gone) and via Redcliffs to Sumner.  The Redcliffs causeway was closed for repairs and all the busy traffic was diverted along the old road, which has slumped deeply in places.  It's all a bit much for an ordinary car, and it seems a rugged four wheel drive is the way to get around now.  Shag Rock used to be a prominent monolith at the entrance to the Avon-Heathcote Estuary; now it's a pile of rubble, shaken to bits in the February quake.

At Sumner, parts of the cliffs fell away, taking houses with them.  For about 2 km, a 2-story wall of shipping containers protects the road from rock falls.  Several half-houses at the top of the cliff are separated from piles of rubbish at the bottom

The house at centre right of the cliff top is split, and some of it is at the bottom of the cliff.

This sad house has a broken back, one of few timber houses that were badly damaged.

From Sumner, we headed back towards town and briefly crossed the residential red zone.  The road suddenly dropped about 1 m as we entered the zone, and the first house I saw was half sunken into the ground.  In many streets, most houses had been removed and just empty gardens remain; other houses had boarded windows, graffiti, and rubble.  I couldn't bring myself to take pictures here.  The road was dire: pot-holes, subsidence, and broken surfaces.  Here the approach from the riverside to FitzGerald Avenue has settled, and produced a rough ramp.

We drove down FitzGerald Avenue to the Roman Catholic Basilica, in my opinion Christchurch's finest church.  A poster outside shows what it used to look like:

Now, the domes and towers are gone:

... and from the other side:

From there into the city centre.  What struck me here is the amount of empty space.  Some whole city blocks have almost gone, with only one or two buildings left standing.  Sometimes, you can see for long distances where city buildings and shop fronts used to block the view.  Here's the Cashel St–Colombo St intersection:

But on the other side of Colombo Street, Cashel Mall is transformed into the container mall. Ballantyne's is still trading, and the mall is filled with little shops, cafes and boutiques built with modified shipping containers.  The demolition of buildings on the north side lets the sun in, and crowds were enjoying the spring warmth, the shops, and the buskers.

Container shop:

Container mall looking east:

But most of the city is devoid of any commercial activity, and most offices are now re-located to the suburbs.  Around the corner, nothing remains of the bustling night-life centre of the city, the Strip, on Oxford Terrace.  This used to be wall-to-wall cafes, with indoor and outdoor dining.

And a bit further along, so many buildings have gone that you can see right through from Oxford Terrace to the cathedral ruins in the Square:

The old tourist information centre is heavily braced, pending repair I hope.

The Square used to be the heart of the city, and maybe it will be again.  However, not just the Anglican cathedral is damaged, but many other buildings have gone: Farmer's Department Store is an empty lot, and the BNZ tower is reduced to 3-4 stories of desolate ruin.  I took a panorama 360 degree view that you can drag and zoom in to.

The cathedral itself is worse than I'd imagined.

But here too, some clever soul has added a quirky and colourful portal, returning colour and hope to the Square.

North of the Square the old National Bank is standing, but boarded up and empty, among vacant lots.

And looking back towards the cathedral, so many buildings have gone that you can see all the way to the Port Hills.

When I lived in Christchurch, funding was being raised for the restoration of the Theatre Royal.  All that's left of that restoration is the facade and the dome, but it's being rebuilt and seems to be well ahead of many other buildings.

The casino is still standing; that's one building I think Christchurch would be better off without.  If you believe earthquakes are acts of God, you'd have to say he hates churches and likes casinos.  Nearby, someone has cleverly built an enclosure of blue-painted pallets, where people were selling art and crafts from stalls, while others played and listened to music.

The Bridge of Remembrance is being repaired, I guess with a view to the anniversary of the first World War next year, and Gallipoli the year after.

And some of the old stone buildings of the Arts Centre, the old University of Canterbury, are being repaired.

This is what the arts centre looked like, back in 1972 when it was the University of Canterbury:

I hope it can be restored to its former glory.

Canterbury Museum is already up and running.

My overall impressions?  Shock I think, at the extent of the damage and the disruption and loss that face the people every single day.  Also delight, at the funky creations that are springing up all over, some sanctioned by the authorities, others more subversive.  And awe and respect for the people who live amongst it all, with frustration, fear, patience, and hope.  My friends have wondered about the wisdom of living the rest of their middle years in a city that is so damaged and will be so long under repair.  But they have decided to stay, and among the loss that surrounds them there is great hope and growing excitement for the future.  

My other impression is from the first day I arrived, before I saw the damage.  The shuttle trip from the airport to Lincoln took me through suburbs so busy and bustling they were more like Auckland than the South Island.  Here the commercial life of the city has reinvented itself and people have come to live in sprawling new suburbs that are marching across former farm land.