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Heels 1978

Bloody Plants

page 25

Bloody Plants

I first came across that botanical abomination known variously as Spaniard, speargrass or Aciphylla,at a tender age, in a tender part of the anatomy when my highschool class was on a visit to the Cobb Valley. We climbed up to the top of Mt Peel from Trilobite Hut and I sat down. Only to stand up very quickly. Round One to the plants, and almost every other round since.

Animals eat speargrass while it is still young and tender, but if allowed to grow the plants become hard and unforgiving. I've seen a leaf point go through leather. Besides being hazardous, the mature grasses can be spectacular with their massive flower-heads - they don't look much like their relations, the carrots and parsnips.

Another spikey plant is Matagouri which looks like a monstrous dead Hawthorn and grows well in the lower flats of the Travers Valley, among other places - sheer hell to have to travel through - go round if you can. It's very good at shredding packs, parkas, overtrousers, bush-shirts and skin, and is also known as Wild Irishman.

The stinging plants, the nettles, are fortunately local in occurrence. I won't say any more for fear of becoming obscene.

Then there's leatherwood in all its twisted glory. Stories abound, many originating from the Tararuas, where, in many places, it provides the final obstacle between the bush and the tops. Wellington trampers can rave in long and horrifying detail about their struggles with these in all weathers the Tararuas can show. So can I, but I won't. Its redeeming features - it burns well even when green, and the flowers are pretty.

Bush Lawyer I have never really been able to laugh at since I wrapped a length around my neck in Able Tasman. It holds you back, trips you up, shreds your favourite skin; but the fruit when well ripened is often quite edible.

Another creeper is supplejack. Ever tried to clamber through a thicket of the stuff on a slippery bank? No? Well you don"t know how lucky you are - there were nearly two Deadbeat Daves, both singing soprano.

The grasses aren't innocent either - cutty grass, carpet grass, ferns, and gorse, of course.

But for all the uncomfortable plants in Godzone, there are many more innocent, joyful, and nice to be near. Don't let the Forest Service change them to pines.

Dave Waghorn

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