This article was published in the Titirangi Tatler, September 2012
The Waitakere Ranges is home to many species of plants, but only one is truly a Waitakere endemic, growing nowhere else.
Hebe bishopiana is a willowy shrub growing to about a metre tall and is confined to streamsides and coastal cliffs of the Waitakere Ranges. It is closely allied to both Hebe stricta, the widespread, common koromiko, and also to Hebe obtusata which is common along Waitakere's coastline.
The Chief Inspector of Schools in Auckland and amateur botanist, Donald Petrie, named the plant in 1926 as a hybrid between Hebe stricta and H. obtusata. In an interesting example of modern scientific techniques confirming evolution, it is now considered a pure species which breeds 'true' from seed. Petrie named the plant in honour of John J. Bishop (1865-1933) of Titirangi. In the 1840's John's father, John Bishop senior, was rafting the felled kauri along the Oratia Stream to send to the mill in Freemans Bay. He was one of the first Europeans to settle in Titirangi in 1855 having purchased, in the vicinity of today's junction of Titirangi Road with Huia Road, sufficient land for a farm.
John junior took an avid interest in nature and the remnant bush scattered among the burnt stumps and newly-established pasture of the young Titirangi township. As his knowledge of the plants grew, he guided visitors to see some of the less common species, and took to growing them in his garden. It was probably there that Petrie first saw the long narrow leaf with the purple tint that typifies Hebe bishopiana, and the purple stems and mauve flowers that define the species.
There too, J.J. Bishop probably had growing the low-spreading Hebe obtusata, which at the time was also considered as an endemic plant of the Waitakere Ranges. More recently a population at Kawhia has been discovered. It too has the purple tints in the flowers, foliage and stems, but the slightly hairy leaves are broad and short making it quite distinctive from Hebe bishopiana.
With D.I.Y. coming back into fashion, it is time to consider a make-over for the garden and what better to start the new vision, than a brace of Hebe species that reflect your place in the sun, are at home in Titirangi, and will attract more butterflies and other insects into your garden than most exotic plants.
Combine them with a wilder backdrop of Hebe stricta and the sprawling form of the magenta-coloured Hebe speciosa (Maori name is Titirangi) and you will have a theme of Hebes all absolutely at home in the ranges of Waitakere.
They will all respond to a little T.L.C with an annual pruning after flowering, and a dose of manure or sheep pellets to kick them along. Planted in the most exposed sites they should be disease free, but if mildews attack them a systemic fungicide spray such as 'Shield' will clean them up.