This article was published in The Fringe, September 2016
Kohurangi or Kirk's Tree Daisy
If you are a romantic and have cause to choose a daisy to pluck the petals reciting, "She loves me, she loves me not", discarding a petal on every phrase, then you are in luck in New Zealand because we have lots of daisies. Three hundred and forty six at last count with a spread throughout the country from coastal to high alpine, from the subtropical Kermadecs to the subantarctic islands.
Of course, every species has flowers somewhat different from all the rest so there is huge variation in size, colour and shapes. In fact, quite a few have almost no discernible petals, which does make it difficult for the forlorn lover. However, there are plenty to choose from with myriad petals - enough to satisfy the most love-lost swain.
But the New Zealand daisy I would choose if ever in such a state would be Kohurangi, for rather practical reasons, as the petals are large and easily plucked, and there are not too many of them. Further, the decision cannot be predicted as to whether the loved one returns the sentiment as the number of petals varies but generally falls in the 6 - 10 petal range. In fact, they are not true petals at all. The yellow centre of the flower is actually a cluster of many flowers which gives daisies the family name of Compositae as in 'composite flowers'. What appear to be petals are the flat strap-shaped corolla usually occupying the outside ring of flowers within the cluster or 'capitulum'.
If spring is the season for lovers, then the Brachyglottis kirkii var. kirkii is the plant for them as it is at its best in September, whereas the more common Brachyglottis kirkii var. angustior is a summer flowering form, which does give the forlorn lover a second chance.
Apart from the flowering time there are two characteristics that make the two forms easily distinguishable, even without flowers. 'Angustior' means narrow and the leaves of that variety are long and narrow, with slightly undulating margins, particularly when compared to the more rounded and lobed leaves of the variety kirkii. In addition, they occupy different niches in the forest ecology. Var. angustior is generally found on the ground and, with more widespread pest control showing its effects throughout the Waitakere Ranges, it is becoming increasingly common, with the commensurate increase in the display of flowers in summer.
Less obvious are the few plants of var. kirkii despite their flowers being just as showy. They probably never were as numerous or conspicuous as they live their lives epiphytically high up in the branches of other trees or clinging to a bunch of moss wrapped around a nikau trunk.
Both forms are worthy of cultivation and var. kirkii will grow on the ground as will be evident if you take a trip to Rangitoto this spring. There on the harsh volcanic lava amongst that other grounded epiphyte, the puka or Griselinia lucida, there are swathes of var. kirkii, but apparently no var. angustior.
So spring is definitely the season for young lovers to visit Rangitoto.