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.