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Forest Vines to Snow Tussocks: The Story of New Zealand Plants

Cliffs and Rock Outcrops

Cliffs and Rock Outcrops

Inland river cliffs above flood level in moister areas support a number of distinctive species mostly with drooping leaves or stems. The most striking and attractive of these, is the large-leaved fern Blechnum 'capense', which sometimes covers large areas to the exclusion of other plants. Other species conspicuous at some localities are various willow-leaved koromikos (Hebe), the robust pendent sedge Machaerina sinclairii, and, in better-lit places, the slender drooping stems of Cordyline banksii. Parataniwha (Elatostema rugosum) (Fig. 63) in northern parts of the country may cover with its attractive purplish foliage extensive areas of cliff, in the wettest and shadiest places.

Cliffs and rocky slopes along the coasts are populated by hardier species able to withstand gales and salt.125 In the most exposed situations low growing succulent plants predominate, including the native ice plant Disphyma australe, the glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora, Apium prostratum and Senecio lautus. In the North Island particularly, prostrate shrubs of the shiny-leaved taupata (Coprosma repens, known as the 'looking glass plant' in California where it is cultivated) are often prominent. page 156On more sheltered aspects, so-called mountain flax (Phormium cookianum) may form a close cover, in association with Hebe macroura in the East Cape region, Hebe stricta in central New Zealand and, in the southern South Island and Stewart Island, Hebe elliptica and several ferns.

The drier inland and coastal cliffs of Marlborough have their own distinctive flora. Notable is the genus Pachystegia (Compositae) endemic to Marlborough and North Canterbury. Until recently it was thought that there was only one species but a study in progress indicates that there could be as many as five.126 They are all small, spreading shrubs with thick, leathery leaves, densely furry beneath. The flower buds are perhaps more striking than the flowers, being relatively large, almost globose and with many closely overlapping scale leaves. They have been aptly likened to drumsticks. Often associated with the Pachystegias, mostly at inland sites, are two other Marlborough and North Canterbury endemics, Brachyglottis monroi and Hebe hulkeana with its freely branched inflorescences of small mauve flowers. Other wider ranging shrubs are the dwarf kowhai (Sophora prostrata), the leafless Clematis (C. afoliata), the densely twiggy Corokia cotoneaster and other small, drought-resistant shrubs. The latter group of species is also frequent on dry rocky outcrops further south in inland Canterbury and Otago. On the south Otago coast, species of two predominantly alpine genera are conspicuous — Celmisia lindsayi on solid rock faces and stony debris and Anisotome lyallii on debris. Other forms of A. lyallii occur in Fiordland and Stewart Island.

Also in Fiordland and Stewart Island are distinctive coastal shrubberies of 'daisy trees'. These may overhang the sea or be separated from it by the Hebe elliptica/Phormium cookianum association. In more sheltered situations, Brachyglottis rotundifolia predominates, with its large, round, leathery leaves giving way in exposed sites to Olearia angustifolia, a handsome shrub with quite large, white, purple-centred flowers.