Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Wood Rose, Dactylanthus taylorii

Specimens of Wood Rose, Dactylanthus taylorii
Katikati Heritage Museum collection, Photograph by Brett Payne
Tucked away in a dark corner of the Katikati Heritage Museum, volunteer Sue Sisley came across a case containing some strangely shaped pieces of wood with an intriguing label identifying them as Wood Roses, aka Dactylanthus taylorii.

Dactylanthus taylorii, as described by Hooker in 1859
Actually Dactylanthus taylorii is something of a misnomer, as all traces of this unusual parasitic plant have long since disappeared.  Otherwise known as pua o te reinga or Flower of Hades, it is endemic to New Zealand, having been first discovered and described from around the headwaters of the Whangaehu River on the slopes of Mount Raupehu by Reverend R. Taylor on 18 March 1845.

Short-tailed bat feeding on flowers of Dactylanthus taylori
(Click for short video)
The tuber attaches itself to the roots of a range of about 30 native hardwood trees and shrubs, from which it derives its nutrients, and in response, the host roots mould themselves into the characteristic shape of a fluted wooden rose.  It has no green leaves, but real flowering stalks protrude above the surface, and the inflorescences, filled with sweet-smelling nectar, are pollinated by short-tailed bats, rats and mice.

Dactylanthus taylorii covered with moss and protected by wire mesh cage, Whirinaki Forest, Te Urewera
Photograph by Brett Payne
In the past the large tubers were dug up, then boiled for several hours to soften the warty growth, which was carefully scraped off to reveal the "flowers."  They were then commonly dried and varnished.  Although formerly found throughout the North Island and northern South Island, there are now likely to be less than a few thousand left.  D. taylorii is listed as "Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable" by the Department of Conservation and ranked as high priority for conservation.  Collection is no longer permitted, and protection measures include both pest control and enclosure in wire mesh cages.

Specimens of Wood Rose, Dactylanthus taylorii
Private collection, Photograph by Brett Payne
The museum's former owner Nancy Merriman has revealed that the family used to visit Pyes Pa in the 1960s, where they found the two smaller ones, while the largest originated from the Goodwin Collection.  Further discussion with volunteers while this item was being photographed and packed for temporary storage turned up two further specimens in a private collection, gifted in the Taumarunui area during the 1970s.


Hooker, J.D. (1859) On a new Genus of Balanophoreae from New Zealand, and Two Species of Balanophora, Transactions of the Linnaean Society, Volume 22, p.425-428, from Botanicus

Hill, H. (1926) Dactylanthus taylori, Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol 56, p. 87-90, pl. 14-17.

Scarrow, Eion (1993) Newspaper clipping about Dactylanthus taylorii, from the New Zealand Herald, 1 December 1993 (Courtesy of Peter Martin)

Ecroyd, Chris E. (1996) The ecology of Dactylanthus taylorii and threats to its survival, New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 20 (1): 81-200.

La Cock, G.D., Holzapfel, S., King, D. & Singers, N. (2005) Dactylanthus taylorii recovery plan, 2004-2014, Threatened Species Recovery Plan 56, Department of Conservation

Anon (2007) Dactylanthus taylorii fact sheet, August 2007, Department of Conservation

Dactylanthus taylorii, from Wikipedia

Native Plants: Dactylanthus, by Department of Conservation

Photographs of Dactylanthus by Rod Morris.

Matt McGlone. Evolution of plants and animals - Ecological influences, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 8-Jul-13

Dactylanthus taylorii, Photographs from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network

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