Archive for the 'Maggy Wassilieff' Category

War of the roses

Native flax

Native flax

When news reached Te Ara that the Horowhenua District Council was planning to remove 300 roses alongside a central town round-about and replace them with flaxes and grasses, hot debate followed among the Te Ara staff. Here is an expurgated snippet.

It’s great to see the people of Levin finally throwing off horticultural imperialism, and realising that they live in New Zealand, and not on a little island off the coast of Europe. Roses were introduced by our English forebears to remind them of home, but they always get thrashed by the wind, and only survive by being sprayed.

Flaxes and natives are easy care – they don’t need to be pruned or covered in chemicals. The council will save $400,000 on their maintenance. Evolved for local conditions, they grow easily here – this was the area where a flax industry flourished.

They move beautifully in the wind; they attract the native birds. And they look so much better – colours that speak of the landscape around, shapes that are dramatic and eye-catching. Who needs the pastels and thorns of roses when you can have the drama of a flowering flax?

English roses

English roses

It’s tragic that horticultural chauvinism is advanced as an argument to support the actions of a short-sighted council. Let’s be clear from the start – flaxes deserve a place in our landscape – but the flax battleground is not on urban traffic islands or in civic gardens; it’s out on the plains, on our farms, and along the coast and waterways that we need to plant more flaxes.

Do we really want mass plantings of flax in our gardens? Consider the tenax cultivars – they grow into giants and harbour rats (hence the absence of native flax snails and weevils on the mainland). And they’re junk collectors – plastic bags, bottles, paper and empty cans collect in flax fans. They are not low-maintenance beasts – their old leaves droop and whip round and round in the wind, creating ugly bare patches. Coloured fans revert to green and old fans die off. Flaxes need regular haircuts if they’re to look their best.

The majority of New Zealanders are not averse to a flax or two in their gardens, but what most gardeners want is colour, colour and colour – something flowering roses provide in abundance. As a bonus, a rose-grower gets scent, form and beauty. Then there’s the satisfaction from growing a lovely rose. Any fool can grow a flax.

What a shame Levin’s council is failing to capitalise on its rich horticultural history, its equable climate and fabulous soils. It could emulate Timaru and promote itself as a rose-growing centre. Leave the flaxes in Foxton, I say.

Well, after hearing the arguments for and against, what do you think?

Toxic honey

The villain of the piece

The villain of the piece

The passion vine hopper has lovely lacy wings – and that’s the only nice thing I know about this little Ozzie overstayer. For the PVH, as it is known to the cognoscenti, is the real fly in the ointment (well, bug in the honey) in the latest poisoning episode in the Coromandel.

As you probably know by now, toxic honey develops in dry autumns when honey bees feed on honeydew exuded by PVHs after they’ve sucked juices from the poisonous tree tutu.

If ever an ecologist needed an example to illustrate the interdependency of humans and their natural environment, then the toxic honey story is a graphic example. Consider the elements needed in this tragic drama:

  • a long, dry autumn – frequently experienced on the East Coast of New Zealand
  • tree tutu – a poisonous native shrub
  • PVHs – greedy, sap-sucking insects
  • honey bees – to collect the toxic wastes from the PVHs to transform into honey
  • humans – to consume the toxic brew.

Remove one element and there’s no problem: in parts of New Zealand where tree tutu is uncommon or where temperatures are too cool for PVHs, toxic honey is not produced. If there is plenty of rain during summer and autumn, the poisonous drops from the bums of the PVHs are washed off the leaves of the tutu bushes and honey bees search for another food source.

One of the tragedies of this recent poisoning episode is that some people seem to have forgotten that toxic honey poisoning is not uncommon and has a well-documented history in New Zealand. Up until 2008, 294 cases of toxic honey poisoning, including six deaths, had been notified (see page 16 of Supply of and demand for pollination hives in New Zealand).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were probably other poisoning episodes that were never officially notified. This article from 1902 (in Te Reo Māori) records the deaths of some young men who chanced upon a beehive and sampled its honey.

Scientists worked out the links between the insects, climate, tutu and poisonous honey in 1947, and the following year the government brought in regulations preventing beekeepers from placing their hives in the Coromandel and eastern Bay of Plenty areas during December–May. These regulations have now been relaxed, but commercial beekeepers are required to check that their bees are not gathering honeydew from toxic sources.

Toxic honey isn’t the only problem with PVHs. They’ve also been implicated in spreading diseases to cabbage trees, flaxes and strawberries, and are responsible for producing the honeydew that feeds the sooty moulds that ruin kiwifruit.

It’s time for these little hoppers to pack their swag, pick up some of their possum cobbers along the way and head back home.

Te Ara quiz: castles, ships, stars and potters

Can you beat your friends, family and workmates on our castle-themed quiz? The higher your score, the more fireworks you get.

Once again, you can click on ‘Find the answer in Te Ara’ if you need a helping hand.

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Top frog

Archey’s froglet

Archey’s froglet

One of our native frogs has just topped a world listing, however, it’s not an achievement to celebrate.

Archey’s frog now has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered amphibian.

Archey’s frog is listed as critically endangered on New Zealand’s threatened species list, but it’s very sobering to realise that the world’s leading frogologists (also known as herpetologists) consider it to be in a more desperate state than any other frog or newt in the world.

Our other three native frogs also make the top 100:

Predators like rats and the chytrid fungus have nearly wiped out these endemic frogs.

What chance have these frogs got? Are they on the slippery slope to extinction, as three other native species of frog were 1000 years or so ago? Well, within the limits of available funding and using the skills of the few frog experts we have in New Zealand, it looks like everything that can be done for these little critters is being tried.

2008 has been designated the Year of the Frog by the Amphibian Ark conservation campaign – let’s hope it’s a great one for our frogs and the folk working to save them.

Te Ara Summer Quiz

Test your general knowledge (or your workmates’) against the Te Ara Summer Quiz.

If you’re still suffering from backtoworkitis, we’d understand if you resorted to clicking ‘Find the answer in Te Ara’, which will take you to a helpful entry.

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