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The succulent corner at Yankee Wharf, Rangitoto Island

Well, after the huge disappointment to see the Islington Bay Aeonium colony decimated by the Department of Conservation we had to decide what to do next. The main purpose of the January 2009 trip to Rangitoto was to take as many pictures as possible and to try to catalogue somehow the existing Aeonium forms existing in the small colony just south of Islington Bay wharf, but now all our hopes went off in flames.

1. A wonderful Nerium oleander in flower halfway between Islington Bay wharf and Yankee Wharf.

Fortunately Rangitoto is not a place to get easily bored or impatiently wait for the next ferry (except when youre running out of water) so that my younger son Vlad (my companion during the Rangitoto trips) and I took the decision to move rapidly to the southern parts of the island in order to have a closer look at some other hot spots we havent visited before like Kidney Fern Glen, Kowhai Grove and McKenzie Bay and if time allows to have a quick run to Wilsons Park the remnants of an intended botanical garden, which reportedly has also included few cacti and other succulent plants. It was enough time we thought. Luckily we didnt decide to return to Rangitoto Wharf on the same route we came here, on the Islington Bay Road, faster indeed but less attractive for people with browsing habits like us but to take the coastal track instead. It was in fact the best decision we could possibly take, even if we missed all other targets set for the day and nearly missed the last ferry to Auckland as well. Ten minutes later and we have already reached Yankee Wharf. Just a short distance south of this place we didnt fail to notice the high concentration of succulent and non-succulent naturalized plants in this area not a high number of species, but a large number of plants scattered along the rocky shores, literally thousands of them from seedlings to well established individuals in places where the young pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) bush doesnt come right to the waterline leaving larger areas of exposed lava fields. This kept us busy for most of the time we still had to spend on the island.

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2. The site south of Yankee Wharf with Motutapu Island beyond the shallow waters of the channel. You can see the predominance of the white flowering Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis in this area.

3. The splendour of the pure white flowering head of Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis. Many thousands of seedlings of this prolific seeder are scattered everywhere simply infesting the area and posing a major threat for adjacent parts of Rangitoto. I trust you have also noticed the tiny Crassula multicava and Crassula tetragona ssp. robusta plantlets hanging on to the lava block in the background.

You cant miss this succulent hot spot if you take the coastal track south. One of the signs that you are close is a magnificent Nerium oleander on the right side of the track, not a succulent plant but still a beauty when in flower. From here on there are just few more minutes to go. There is a high concentration of Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis here, both white and blue flowering forms, simply infesting the area which immediately draws your attention from the distance. This extremely invasive plant thrives here Page 2

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apparently undisturbed and unharmed in recent times by the Department of Conservation (probably still concerned about the Agave americana and Aeonium colonies just a bit north) and spreads its seed all over the place creating in few corners a cover of young seedlings as you can see in some of the pictures. There is no proper soil here but lava flows with pockets of sand or shingle; lichens are almost everywhere and also organic debris or semi-decayed organic matter accumulates between and under the plants. The place looks exposed but is quite sheltered actually even if close to the waterline the calm shallow waters of the narrow channel between Motutapu and Rangitoto islands have a very low dynamic and certainly do not provide full on marine exposure.

4 5. Two slightly different growth forms of Sarcocornia quinqueflora ssp. quinqueflora.

6. Sedum album growing on a spot with accumulations of shingle, sand, crushed shells and vegetation debris. I havent seen this plant growing directly on the lava blocks; apparently it needs a thin layer of rocky substrate to thrive.

The only native succulent we have seen here was the halophyte chenopod Sarcocornia quinqueflora ssp. quinqueflora. It does not form massive population as elsewhere in Rangitoto, but still small tussocks are Page 3

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scattered here and there, within or near the splash zone. A very distinct feature of this plant is that it creates different growth forms depending on the amount and frequency of the seawater it usually gets. In places where the tide moistens the substrate (it can be even partly submerged) the plants are stronger, usually greener, and with long erect or ascending stems; on rocks where it gets only mists of seawater on occasion Sarcocornia quinqueflora ssp. quinqueflora stays smaller and stems have a somewhat contorted look. For an inexperienced observer they may look like totally different plants. The rest of the succulent plants growing here is a collection of former garden glories. Sedum album is not as common as it is in the abandoned gardens near Islington Bay wharf, but we still have seen few nice bronze coloured plants that have found the right place for them. Very easy to spot when in flower, I usually can hardly notice their presence otherwise. Aeonium hybrids were also scattered everywhere, at least three distinct forms with haworthii and undulatum parentage, mostly smaller plants and surprisingly many plantlets, some of them almost stemless and bearing only 2 cm wide rosettes. We havent seen any plants with flower remnants (the site must have been checked in the past) but the large number of apparently young plants makes me think that seed was dispersed here at some stage. I think it is unlikely that only vegetative means of dispersal may have produced that many plantlets not to speak of the variety of forms. We also couldnt find here two of the very interesting forms seen in the Islington Bay colony one year before the forms being apparently very close to the true species Aeonium haworthii and Aeonium undulatum.

7. Countless Aeonium hybrids (mostly smallish plants like these) are scattered everywhere, preferring the cracks, crevices and fissures of the lava blocks.

Yankee Wharf is definitely a play ground for invasive plants the best example is probably Crassula tetragona ssp. robusta. We couldnt believe our eyes when we first saw the dense layer of seedlings and young plants covering some areas. The word thickets would be a totally adequate description if we disregard the height of these plantlets. With several flowering plants in the area it is very probably seed that keeps the numbers up. On the other hand it is this kind of substrate offered in Rangitoto that boosts its growth; you can see it in cultivation plant a Crassula tetragona up on a pile of rocks or in a crack of a stone wall and it will thrive like nowhere else. Page 4

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8. One of the very few bigger Aeonium plants. Probably due to the very harsh conditions they do not usually branch (excepting Aeonium haworthii). Although I havent seen here flowering plants seed seem to have been dispersed here at some stage.

9 11. Crassula tetragona ssp. robusta is very abundant on this site, forming dense patches of young plants. Flowering sized plants are also numerous, some still bearing the withered remnants of the inflorescences. Despite the high density of plants Crassula tetragona ssp. robusta has just a much localized distribution and does not occur anywhere else Ive been in Rangitoto.

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Crassula multicava is also very common. Again, we are dealing here with a very invasive plant. Although reportedly New Zealand plants do not set seed (possibly due to clonal propagation in early days of its cultivation) this plant has an even more efficient mean of dispersal. Bigger plants are prolific flowerers and when the flowers start to wither tiny plantlets are formed in the axils of the inflorescence. Soon these become airborne and establish quickly in moist pockets skipping the difficult germination process.

12. The composite vegetation pattern display is very eloquent in this picture form the front to the background, on only a couple of meters, there are four distinct rows of plants: Crassula coccinea, Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis, Crassula tetragona ssp. robusta, and Aloe maculata. You can also see how the substrate changes over a very short distance.

13. A fine specimen of Crassula multicava.

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The once favourite of the cottage gardens Crassula coccinea, with its bright red inflorescences of long tubular flowers is catching your attention from the distance this time of the year. There are just few plants scattered here and there, some plantlets as well. It does very well in gardens in rich soil but as all succulent plants here it has to grow on lava blocks with barely any organic matter (mostly debris) accumulated in fissures and pockets.

14. A flowering Crassula coccinea with Crassula multicava plantlets scattered in the background.

15. The resurrection of a Crassula coccinea plant.

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Carpobrotus edulis does not cover large areas; it looks more like plants have switched to survival mode here. Lots of dead stems but also some active growth but not even close to the dense mats of crawling stems we can find elsewhere. Truth is that its preferred habitat the sand dunes or the back of the beaches is not available here, being forced to grow on bare rock. However, they seemed to find few spots with accumulated debris and semi-decayed organic matter where survival was possible. But as the black basalt lava blocks get extremely hot in high summer I think it is rather the heat these plants cant stand.

16. Succulent mix with a dead Agapanthus in the centre.

17. Carpobrotus edulis trying to survive extreme heat. This is one of the few spots here at Yankee Wharf where this plant seems to have somewhat established (although this is far from its normal density and growth pattern on sand dunes). Probably the layer of dead stems provides some protection from the lava blocks getting very hot in high summer and also retains precious moisture for a bit longer.

Sedum praealtum ssp. praealtum does not form large groups, but rather scattered plants are seeking shade and shelter. One of the things we have noticed these plants do not occur usually in open spaces, but Page 8

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elsewhere where stronger plants have already established, in most of the cases at bush margins, but sometimes almost hidden between Agapanthus tussocks very abundant in this area. There are mostly medium sized plants and just very few plantlets pointing towards a vegetative reproduction this time. We have seen several times this plant during past trips in Rangitoto, but none of them was flowering. I actually have no idea how the flower looks like and it seems to be a rather shy flowerer.

18. Sedum praealtum ssp. praealtum prefers sheltered positions between higher plants or dense patches of vegetation and with some accumulations of decayed organic matter.

19. Aloe maculata is very common at Yankee Wharf and provides the most spectacular specimens. The plant is shooting rhizomes but the rosettes do not stay very crowded as you can usually see in cultivated plants because of the scarcity of the moisture. All plants here have the red-brownish colour due to the exposed conditions and quasiconstant water deficit.

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Aloe maculata (aka Aloe saponaria) is also very common here and provides few very fine specimens. Generally, you wont find the emerald green long leaved plants you can see on occasion in some shaded gardens, growing in rich soils with plenty of water available, but ascetic individuals instead with short and red-brown coloured leaves, showing a very compact growth as a result of the exposure, intense sunlight and quasi-constant water deficit. However, there are few glorious plants to see! Surprisingly, the very young plants are extremely numerous in some corners. Aloe maculata can be propagated by seed (but it takes ages and is a painful process, Ive been through this) or rhizomes emerging nearby. However, in this case the plants have no real soil to protect the rhizomes from the harsh sun. There is also some distance between different plants; we havent seen here the clump usually formed by cultivated plants. More, some of the plants grow in funny places like cracks and fissures on elevated lava blocks, which rather points to seed dispersal than by vegetative means. I havent seen any flowering plants (here or in other parts of Rangitoto) but I also assume this site is checked from time to time by the Department of Conservation.

20. An extra fine specimen of Aloe maculata, full of character, with extra short and extra broad leaves a living statement of what it had to endure.

And last but not least Aloe arborescens. I couldnt believe my eyes when I saw it first through the binoculars. This was such a surprise for us and quite a novelty I think the only Checklist on naturalized plants it appears on is D.J. Mahons Canterbury naturalized vascular plant checklist, version June 2007, as a casual occurrence in Banks Peninsula, recorded by Wilson in 1999 but its presence on Rangitoto wasnt mentioned at all in botanical references before so far I know. The only Checklist of naturalized plants I Page 10

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couldnt consult is the one published in 2008 in The New Zealand Journal of Botany, available only to subscribers. A couple of well established individuals, showing again a rather very simplified growth forms, quite different from the arborescent growth (hence the name) we can usually see in cultivated plants. And again Im a bit clueless about how these plants could get here and propagate.

21. One of the big surprises we had on this Rangitoto trip Aloe arborescens, never mentioned on Rangitoto in botanical or nonbotanical accounts.

This site is quite unusual and looks like a battlefield where several plants compete for the same spot. Considering that the site is very probably checked by the Department of Conservation and mature plants often removed (Zero Density Control) that gives fair chances of survival and regeneration to most of the species present here. Old settled habitats look different plants share the habitat in a certain way depending on their ability to colonize or survive in certain circumstances, there is a naturally grouping that occurs and plants of the same vegetation layer dont mix readily. In some places one species eventually takes control and becomes the dominant form of vegetation, but not here! Of course, some of the species already mentioned are more abundant, some more isolated, but the amazing thing is that on only couple of square meters you can see here 4 5 6 different species grow together and form a kind of vegetal mosaic, in a mix you usually dont see in the wild. To visit the succulent site south of Yankee Wharf is worth the effort and is quite instructive too this is how our old fashioned garden succulents actually live in the wild, but youve got to be quick! The Department of Conservation might take its role very seriously when you expect the least.

Eduart Zimer, August 2009 eduartzimer@yahoo.co.nz http://eduart.page.tl/Home.htm Page 11

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