Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A Coastal Walk - naming the plants

Volunteer work takes me for a walk along the coast several mornings a month in summer.  Walking the same path, day after day, isn't dull or a chore. 
The path along the coast, white-faced heron ahead
Each day, I see something different, depending perhaps on the weather or the tide, or I see something differently. Sometimes there are big changes: a storm leaves soft-bodied jelly fish and bright orange sponges stranded on the beach and covers the path with driftwood. 
After the storm - jellyfish on the beach
But there may be no change at all, just that I am suddenly aware of an unusual plant that I've walked past before, unseeing.
Shore bindweed - NZ native
I'm intrigued by the act of naming and describing. How, what was before a mass of greenery or stalks, becomes individual plants of different shades of green, textured with spikes, tendrils or berries.  Before the naming, we might say to ourselves "there's that plant with those waxy berries again" or "the vine with the pink flowers". But after the naming, we walk along and say out loud, "that's Muehlenbeckia complexa" or "ahh Shore Bindweed, did you know it's native?"
Muehlenbeckia complexa, scrambling pohuehue
And then we can't walk along without noticing, the plants never return to a mass of indistinguishable greenery, our perception is changed forever.

This summer, the weeds are to blame for my changing perception. Weed control - spraying - takes place a few times a year. I wanted to know which were the weeds, those pesky smotherers, and which were the native plants to be encouraged.

I decided to use iNaturalistNZ to photograph and record plants as I noticed them. With the help of botanists around New Zealand I was able to identify what I was seeing - finding a name to distinguish one from another.
Some of my Nature Watch entries

There are only a few of these native plants along the pathway:
Coastal cutty grass

Knobby clubrush

Arnim's comments on iNaturalistNZ about Knobby clubrush
New Zealand flax

Common bushes include: Muehlenbeckia complexa or scrambling pohuehue (see above photo), Ozothamnus leptophyllus or tauhinu, and Coprosma propinqua or miki
Miki (with a copper butterfly)

There are a few trees, karaka, taupata, kawakawa, kaikomako, mahoe. I won't show them all here, just kaikomako, as that's perhaps the least well known of them.
And some interesting vine-like plants: New Zealand spinach, clematis, shore bindweed (photo above).
New Zealand spinach
Clematis forsterii - flowering in November

My naming project is ongoing, I'll add in new ones as I become aware of them. I'll take my time, giving myself an opportunity to learn the names a few at a time. Plants aren't the only thing I notice, you can see I can't help but photograph butterflies and jellyfish too. More on that in my next blog.

Related blogposts:
Seeing Plants with New Eyes: https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2015/05/seeing-plants-with-new-eyes-learning.html
Weeds or Wild Flowers - what do you see? https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2016/10/weeds-or-wild-flowers-what-do-we-see.html
Birds of the Coast: https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2017/03/birds-at-beach-vulnerable-and-at-risk.html
The volunteer project: https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2016/04/the-pitfalls-of-monitoring-skinks-our.html

Formerly called Nature Watch NZ, anyone can join iNaturalistNZ https://inaturalist.nz and contribute sightings of plants, animals, fungi etc. It is a good example of Citizen Science, where people from all walks of life contribute to scientific knowledge through observations.

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