Saturday, 31 May 2014

Nature Walks at Otari Wilton's Bush

Otari-Wilton's Bush is a Wellington treasure. Not only has New Zealand's native bush been preserved here, but special gardens hold a collection of plant treasures from around New Zealand. I've always thought of this as a great place to bring children to romp around in the bush, it's wild but not so wild that you could get horribly lost. Last year when I came here with some young cousins, we took the nature trail and while they enjoyed running ahead, we had them stop at each of the numbers to do some quick observation before running on helter-skelter down the track.

On Wednesday I came with quite a different group, members of the Forest and Bird Wellington Regional Tramping group. While the group is normally keen to move at a good pace they don't usually run helter-skelter! This time though we were all prepared to go very slowly, stopping and starting as volunteer guides from the Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust led us through the plant collections, showing us things to look for to help us with plant identification.

Our group started off in the fernery where we looked at the patterns of the sori (where the spores are) on the back of fronds, and quickly learned to identify ferns in the Blechnum genus from the very different looking fertile fronds and that the sori of Asplenium ferns were in stripes.
Silver fern - Cyathea dealbata
Shining spleenwort - Asplenium oblongifolium
 We looked at the 'fluffy' stuff at the base of tree fern fronds and discovered that Dicksonia had hairs whereas Cyathea had scales (wider than hairs).
Northern rata
Then we moved on to look at trees, including the Northern Rata, Kauri, and Parapara (the bird catcher tree). We won't see either of the last two occurring naturally in Wellington bush as they are only found growing naturally in the north of the North Island.

In the afternoon we headed down the Nature Trail and on to the beech grove where we spent some time identifying beeches. Some tips I picked up - silver beech has small toothed leaves, red beech leaves are large, toothed and with only 3-4 veins on each side of the main vein, hard beech leaves are also large but with 5-7 veins. Having all of the beeches together in one place was a real bonus and a great way to build our knowledge. I hadn't picked up that the scientific name for beeches had changed recently and are no longer Nothofagus but either Fuscospora or Lophozonia! Check out Rob Suisted's  Naturespic blog for more on this. So while we discussed the fact that English common names and Maori names can be confusing because they are sometimes applied to more than one plant, changing the scientific name doesn't help us beginners either!

More Events

Otari-Wilton's Bush has guided walks open to the public, usually on Sundays, check the Wellington City Council Events Calendar.

Tramps and walks run by the Forest and Bird Wellington Regional Tramping Group are open to all Forest and Bird members.

Ideas for Kids and Families

  • Pick up a pamphlet about the Nature Trail at the Information Centre near the Main Entrance at Otari-Wilton's Bush. 
  • Stop at the numbered posts and look around you, read the pamphlet for some tips of what to look at.
  • Take a magnifying glass, this is a great way to look closely at ferns, flowers and leaves.

Thanks to David McCrone for the photos.