Long hike to check on rare, endangered beauty
A University of Waikato student is researching an obscure, endangered and native plant on Mt Pirongia.
Biology student Monique Hall, 25, is researching the dactylanthus taylorii for an undergraduate summer research scholarship. She’s been hiking to Mt Pirongia’s summit, monitoring the Hihikiwi ridgeline, once a week since November.
The dactylanthus taylorii is New Zealand’s only fully parasitic flowering plant. It is also native only to New Zealand.
Monique has been researching the flowering period and the flower’s pollinators.
“I’m researching the plant to learn more about it and ultimately protect it,” she says.
She describes the dactylanthus taylorii as mysterious and rare.
The plant has been classified as threatened and in serious decline.
It lives off the roots of host trees, has no leaves and only emerges above ground to produce a cluster of flowers with large amounts of nectar.
The flower’s Te Reo Ma¯ori names are Pua o te Reinga (flower of the underworld), and Waewae atua (toes/fingers of gods), Monique says in her report.
Dactylanthus taylorii is found in several locations across the North Island and on Little Barrier Island.
It is primarily pollinated by the endangered short-tailed bat.
The short-tailed bat, however, is thought to be extinct on Mt Pirongia.
Despite this, recent monitoring by the Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society indicates the Pirongia flowers are successfully setting seed.
Monique’s research results confirm the absence of shorttailed bats near the summit of Mt Pirongia.
She discovered that ship rats are feeding on the nectar of the flowers and are likely to be the primary pollinator, along with many insects.
Monique’s findings will be shared with Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society, Department of Conservation, Pu¯ rekireki Marae, Waikato Botanical Society and University of Waikato.
(Right): University of Waikato student Monique Hall with a caged dactylanthus taylorii. The cage protects it from possums.
Close-up of a dactylanthus flower.