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  • Writer's pictureForest Lifeforce

Red alert

Going bush this spring? Keep your eyes out for a stunning battler

Hunters, anglers, trampers and rafters are being asked to keep their eyes out while in the bush this spring for one of our most striking native plants, the critically endangered Kakabeak. Any sightings of the flamboyant plant, which is typically found clinging to cliffs and inaccessible bluff systems and which carries heavy bunches of large, curved bright red flowers, should be reported to the nearest DOC office.

Wild Kakabeak (clianthus maximus or ngutukākā in te reo) have been decimated by goats, deer, rabbits, hares and other exotic browsers, to the extent that the species now holds New Zealand’s highest possible threatened plant ranking: ‘Nationally Critical’.

Although Kakabeak are grown widely in gardens these domestic plants are all derivatives of a few wild plants. They have been interbred and have little or no genetic value.

Until recently only 110 naturally-seeded plants were known to exist in the wild across the entire country. Since then, however, the Forest Lifeforce Restoration (FLR) Trust, a conservation trust working with DOC to prevent the extinction of the Kakabeak, has planted several dozen nursery-reared seedlings in the wild.

A recent DOC-led field trip to Ruakituri, a part of inland Hawke’s Bay where only six wild plants had previously been known to exist, yielded 18 more.

Any new find is significant because it widens the pool of wild-grown seed that can be used in propagation efforts. Which is why DOC’s Kakabeak Recovery Group and the FLR Trust and are appealing for any information about sightings this spring.

“We’re asking anyone who sees a plant – and they’re pretty unmistakable – to make a note of the location, preferably using a GPS reader for the most accurate co-ordinates, and to let us have this information as soon as they get back to civilisation,” said Pete Shaw, the FLR Trust’s forest manager.

“This is the time of the year when the plants are heavy with spectacular bunches of curved crimson flowers, so it’s an ideal time to spot them.”

The Hawke’s Bay-based Trust runs the largest Kakabeak propagation and restoration programme in the country, funded to a significant extent by DOC and Auckland-based Tasti Foods. It has four seed nurseries which have now produced hundreds of juvenile Kakabeak. Staff have started planting these on conservation land.

In years gone by hundreds of plants grouped together would create a stunning spectacle from the Bay of Islands to southern Hawke’s Bay. But today only a few lonely specimens remain in the wild, clinging to the inhospitable cliffs in a desperate defence against goats, deer and other exotic browsers.

“We are making good headway in the drive to bring these plants back from the brink,” Shaw said. “We’ve grown hundreds of seedlings in four specially-designed ‘seed nurseries’ from the seed of wild plants. And we’re planting many of these back in the wild. The rest are planted in our seed nurseries where they will continue to contribute their seed to the recovery programme.”

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