Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Great Veronica Hunt—part 7.

Spring’s here, although you wouldn’t know it today in Christchurch. I’m here for a couple of days to collect and photograph three veronicas for the eFlora project: Veronica polita, V. lavaudiana, and V. hederifolia. I've seen the last two on previous occasions, but I've never seen V. polita before, and it hasn’t been collected in a while, so I went after it first.

Most of the recent collections are from Riccarton, a suburb of Christchurch, but even so, they’re not very recent. In 1954 it was found in the grounds of Mona Vale, a stately home that now belongs to the City Council. In 1966, it was collected in Puriri Street, nearby. And in 1974 it was found on the other side of Riccarrton Road at the Riccarton Town Hall’s car park (now the Riccarton Service Centre of the Christchurch City Council). I went there first.

The car park is still there, but the old hall and much of the garden area is behind mesh fencing, such a feature of contemporary Christchurch. This is because of earthquake damage that still isn’t repaired. I poked around without success and then moved on. At this stage, it was a mild morning and I was enjoying seeing Riccarton on foot. It gave me lots of opportunity to look into little weedy patches of waste ground, flower beds and so on. One passer-by offered me a cigarette; he thought I must be scavenging for discarded cigarette butts—after all, what else could a grown man be doing groveling among the weeds.

I stopped for a coffee and hastily put on my waterproofs as a cold front swept through, and headed off up Mona Vale Road. Alongside the railway there was plenty of Veronica persica and V. arvensis, but nothing that looked like V. polita.

At Mona Vale I knocked on the door of the gardeners’ lodge, where they were very helpful. Brian showed me the likely spots, especially where a long length of brick wall had fallen down, and is now colonised by Kenilworth ivy, Cymbalaria muralis. We didn’t find any V. polita and I felt guilty keeping Brian out in the pouring rain, so I carried on alone. And then, in the part shelter of a low box hedge beside the rose garden, there it was.

V. polita is very similar to V. persica, but it has a smaller, darker flower, and a smaller, rounder, and hairier fruit. I’ve put a couple of pieces out by the window to see if a flower will open.

The pedicels are strongly recurved at fruiting, and there's a tuft of hairs at the base of the calyx, also seen in V. persica. The capsule has rounded lobes; they're spreading and rather triangular in V. persica. This one's got a tooth on the side of one calyx lobe, which is a bit unusual.

Tomorrow I'm off out to Banks Peninsula to look for V. lavaudiana, and to pick up some V. hederifolia at Lincoln on the way.