This article was published in The Fringe, November 2013
Poets have raved about spring.
According to the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
"Nothing is so beautiful as Spring-
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush".
And of course that guy Shakespeare had a few things to say about spring.
But enough of the poets, what does spring mean here in West Auckland?
Hopkins was right. Weeds abound, and many of them are plants both Shakespeare and Hopkins would have known well as they came from Old England.
But we are fortunate to have an abundance of naturally occurring plants and birds, all of which delight in our springtime. The kowhai trees epitomise spring and tui take full advantage of their golden flowers. Kereru, the native woodpigeon, also loves kowhai, but prefers the newly emerging foliage to the flowers.
It is the small things that make spring such a fascinating time of year. If you find birds nesting you can enjoy the developing drama as young chicks emerge and fledge. If you see minute seedlings pushing through the soil you can take an interest and try to determine what species they are. If a seedling looks like it will be a friend, you may decide to let it survive, but the foes (read weeds) are best removed at this early stage because they just get more difficult with time.
If there are just two round embryonic leaves, the plant will be a 'dicotyledon' which means it will be a herb, shrub or tree. If the first leaf is long and narrow it usually means the plant is a grass or 'monocotyledon'. These false embryonic leaves are the components of the seed contained within the outer covering, from which the emerging roots appear, generally pushing the remains of the seed up out of the soil, whereupon the cotyledons evolve, closely followed by the first true leaf.
I was busily doing some spring-cleaning, pulling some scrambling fumitory from around my precious Pennantia baylisiana (once recorded as the world's rarest tree). Fumitory starts germinating as soon as winter's chill starts to ease in August, so by October it has a huge start on many other species just germinating now. It has two long narrow embryonic leaves looking rather like a monocotyledon just to fool us.
To my surprise, hidden under the fumitory were hundreds of newly germinating seedlings of the Pennantia. Obviously I had not collected all the seed last year and the birds had gorged themselves on the ripe fruit, depositing the seed directly under the tree. Most had fully developed dicotyledonous leaves, while a few had grown the first true leaf, which was quite a different shape. Only one was still struggling to push the old seed coat off to allow the two halves of the seed to develop into their first leaf-like form.
The Pennantia baylisiana has a fascinating history, and since we began growing it we have sold 300 of them at $100 each. All of that money has been given to various conservation groups with the most recent $5,000 being given to a fund in honour of the scientist who first managed to induce the Pennantia to produce seed. The Ross Beever Memorial Fellowship aims to provide the opportunity for a post-graduate researcher with an outstanding established track record in fungal taxonomy, fungal genetics, plant pathology or botany to work with Landcare Research for up to two years.
You too can help conservation of our native plants by growing the 'world's rarest tree'.
Later, tidying up some potted plants, I saw a few minute seedlings that did not belong there. Taking a second look, rather than weeding them immediately, I saw they resembled a nearby, planted Heliohebe hulkeana which occurs naturally only along the Kaikoura coastline. Clearly the seed had been blown by the wind, and despite the lack of care had decided these neglected pots resembled the rugged cliffs of Kaikoura. I had only ever grown the plant from cuttings, so the sight of these tiny, little seedlings was a first for me.
That is what spring is. Full of surprises.