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.


  1. Hi Phil,
    I hadn´t heard about the association of V. peregrine with railroad tracks. I have it growing in my front yard and know it from the US at moist, open places in forests. So, I assume it just needs some open space with sufficient moisture at least in spring. Further, the (abundant) seeds are small and easily fly a few meters (along a railway track) or stick to anything wet.
    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks Dirk, yes it does seem a springtime puddle is what it needs, and by early summer it's gone. My next Veronica hunt will be for V. verna, which I think is also a spring annual.