September 19, 2017

And Then Came the Megaherbs

Campbell Island, New Zealand, one of the country's subantarctic islands of New Zealand, with a community of megaherbs in the foreground | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Author: Twiddleblat (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Campbell Island, New Zealand, one of the country’s subantarctic islands of New Zealand, with a community of megaherbs in the foreground | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Author: Twiddleblat (CC BY-SA 2.0)

• By Janine Pineo •

The word caught my attention, like a scent to a hound dog.

Megaherb.

What is this glorious thing?

About a week ago, I clicked on a link from an account I follow on Twitter, that of Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. It had something about “forget-me-not” and adventure and so lured me in (see this blog post).

I scanned down through the photos, sighing over some and lingering over others. There were penguins, sea lions and albatross, along with fields and fields of plants. Then I started to read the enthusiastic account of Jessie Prebble, who had gone on this adventure to the subantarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell islands in New Zealand.

A megaherb community on the subantarctic Campbell Island, New Zealand. The yellow flowers are Bulbinella rossi, the pink are Anisotome latifolia, and the pleated leaves on the right of the photograph are those of a Pleurophyllum species. Tussock grass accompanies the megaherbs. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Author: Twiddleblat (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A megaherb community on the subantarctic Campbell Island, New Zealand. The yellow flowers are Bulbinella rossi, the pink are Anisotome latifolia, and the pleated leaves on the right of the photograph are those of a Pleurophyllum species. Tussock grass accompanies the megaherbs. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Author: Twiddleblat (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I got stuck on megaherbs, immediately looking them up and marveling over the wonder of them.

The lowdown is this: These herbaceous perennial wildflowers grow on these isolated islands, notable for their great size of huge leaves and large flowers, the result of their evolution to the islands’ unique climate, soil and the lack of herbivores. The weather, it seems, is mostly wet, cold and very windy, while the soil is “peaty, acidic and impoverished.” Add on “almost continual cloud cover” and you have some interesting conditions to challenge plants.

Flora never cease to amaze me.

Curiously, much like the islands of Maine, livestock was introduced to these islands in the 19th century. Their grazing ended up threatening the megaherbs with extinction, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the livestock was removed.

The good news is that the plants are rebounding on the now protected land. And other than the scientists who live there for research, the islands are uninhabited by humans.

I knew I wanted to write about this, so I looked about and found photos on Wikimedia Commons by twiddleblat. Thank goodness for the sharing of such amazing photos.

The Daily Plant will feature a different megaherb all this week, ending with a “companion” plant on the weekend. You can find them under the New Zealand and megaherb tag on the site.

Enjoy the megaherbs. They are a vivid reminder about how I still have so many things to learn about the world. To paraphrase: So many plants, so little time.