Plants of Mt Iron, Wanaka, New Zealand

October last year I dragged my new husband up Mt Iron in Wanaka. He would have rather been back in town chilling … because “it’s our honeymoon!”. But I said, “marriage is about compromise … just let me get a few photos of plants”. And in an act of incredible husband-ing, he helped me trawl through websites trying to identify the plants! This was surprisingly hard, so I decided to write a post about the plants of Mt Iron in the hope that others won’t have to repeat all our hard work.

Mt Iron just outside Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand, is a ‘roche mountonee’ or ‘sheepback’; a rounded knob of bedrock exposed by a glacier. The upstream side of the knob is gently sloped from the polishing action of the glacier, while the downstream side is steeper and more jagged. The Wanaka area was used by Maori for summer camps, and white settlers started farming in the area in the 1850s, being more densely settled later as it became more popular with tourists. The result of this geology and history is a mountain with several native vegetation types and a fair few weeds.


Discaria toumatou 

I started calling Discaria toumatou the “f**k off plant” (look at those thorns!) but the common name is actually matagouri. The Maori called the plant matakoura, but the English settlers on of the South Island misheard it as matagouri, and so that is what the settlers stuck with. Botanically speaking there are different types of spiky defensive structures on plants. In this case, we have thorns, which are branches or branchlets that have turned over to the dark side. Matagouri has a symbiotic relationship with a group of fungi allowing it to pull nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil.

Discaria toumatou, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Discaria toumatou, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Raoulia australis

This is a great little plant! It has some fantastic common names including sheep plant, vegetable sheep and golden scabweed! It is from the daisy family. It’s common on gravelly soil of mountains in both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. As you can see from the picture it grows as a dense mat and has yellow flowers.

Raoulia australis, Mt Iron Nov 2016 (Image: C Simpson-Young)

Raoulia australis, Mt Iron Nov 2016 (Image: C Simpson-Young)

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii 

I couldn’t tell which of these two species this plant was. Both are rare and part of the Small-leaved Tree Daisy National Recovery Plan. Both species have small populations: 10 000 plants and 4 500 respectively. Their numbers are small because of habitat loss, animal browsing, fragmentation of habitat, weeds, messing up of natural disturbance regimes. The NZ government is calling on New Zealanders to let them know if they find new populations, and encourage their survival if found on their own property.

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Carmichaelia petriei 

Or desert broom. Across the world, you will come across a lot of species called the ‘so-and-so’ broom. Broom is a common name given to plants in the Fabaceae (or pea) family. It comes from the Old English bróm, which meant ‘thorny shrub’. The word broom for a thing that sweeps stuff up comes from the fact that branches from ‘broom’ plants were used for that purpose. In NZ the name broom is given to the native genus of Carmichaelia.

Carmichaelia petriei, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Carmichaelia petriei, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Coriaria sarmentosa 

Found growing in big patches on stony ground, this cool looking plant has fleshy berries that entice animals to distribute the seeds. Many different parts of the plant were used by the Maori for medicinal purposes, for example, the berry juice was fermented with seaweed and used against constipation. The berries are usually poisonous to us but careful separation of the flesh from the seed made a drinkable juice, and when boiled with seaweed made an (apparently) fairly tasty jelly.

Coriaria sarmentosa, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Coriaria sarmentosa, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Kunzea ericoides 

Here is a native that could give some introduced species a run for their money. It grows in dense thickets, dropping leaves making an environment unappealing to understory plants. It can also quickly colonise disturbed ground, making it useful in the fight against weeds. But this can also be useful in providing a place for young natives to establish, making it what we call a “nurse species”. It looks similar to Manuka (the source of the famous Manuka Honey), but there is a difference in the foliage and flower size. Usually the bark and wood look quite white … but not in this photo; there was a fire at this site.

Kunzea ericoides Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Kunzea ericoides, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Montia australasica 

This lovely little plant is found in the southern parts of New Zealand and Australia. The species name australascia is from the Latin for South. They are creeping plants growing mostly in Alpine areas, but hardy enough to deal with scree slopes to shallow water. The genus Montia are often called miner’s lettuce because a North American relative was used in the salads of Californian Gold Rush miners.

Montia australasica Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Montia australasica, Mt Iron (CSY)


Crataegus monogyna 

A European/Western Asia native, the cold winters in NZ are perfect for Hawthorn. It thrives, forming dense colonies and stopping native plants establishing. They are very successful weeds thanks to their ability to put up with a huge variety of climatic conditions, soil types, even frost and salt. Their white flowers are pollinated my midges, while birds and the invasive possums (as an Australian I would like to apologise about the possums) spread the dark red fruit they produce. Their berries are edible for us, as are the petals and leaves. Of course, that is assuming you are able to get past the thorns.

Crataegus monogyna Mr Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Crataegus monogyna, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Myosotis sylvatica 

You will have heard of this one … forget-me-not. Another exotic introduced from Europe/Western Asia. If you look closely at the flowers you can see a raised yellow circles around the centre. That protects the nectar from washing away with the rain. It also is a visual beacon to pollinating insects.

Myosotis sylvatica Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Myosotis sylvatica, Mt Iron (CSY)

Rosa rubiginosa 

The Briar Rose is an attractive and lovely smelling plant brought over from Europe to be planted in New Zealand gardens. And as we so often see … now it is a problematic weed. It’s the source of Rosehip tea, and during WWII rosehips (the fruit) were collected in the Otago area to be made into rosehip syrup which was given to babies as a source of vitamin C. Like Hawthorn it grows in dense thickets suppressing the growth of native plants. It can get so thick that if growing in waterways it can influence flow and cause flooding.

Rosa rubiginosa Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Rosa rubiginosa, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Anagallis arvensis 

A rather pretty exotic, with the common name scarlet pimpernel. Originally from Europe, West Asia and North Africa, it’s a common weed in both disturbed areas and natural vegetation. It can be problematic for farmers because it’s poisonous to livestock, but apparently, it tastes pretty crap so livestock will only eat it if they are desperate (like in an area that has been overgrazed). The coolest thing about the scarlet pimpernel is that they open their flowers when the sun hits them. They will also close up when the atmospheric pressure decreases (i.e. some bad weather on the way). This has earnt them the name ‘poor man’s weatherglass’.


Anagallis arvensis, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Anagallis arvensis, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)



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