Today I had the opportunity to visit a very interesting garden. The entire venue is called Butterfly Creek, and includes a farm, animatronic dinosaurs, aquarium, small zoo and a butterfly house. It also happens to be in my new neighborhood… Auckland, New Zealand!
I jumped at the chance to check out the butterfly house. Not because I like butterflies (though they are interesting in their own regard), but because butterfly houses usually end up being pretty good greenhouses with plenty of neat plants. Butterfly Creek didn’t disappoint. The greenhouse was filled with large, mature plants that made the entire place feel like a real chunk of jungle… transported into the middle of a city of more than a million people. After walking through the door, my brain started immediately thinking of how I could design my own greenhouse to be like this one.
The house had big columns of loose stones wrapped in heavy duty hardware cloth, with bromeliads placed in random spots on each one. I couldn’t tell if there were any drip lines above the columns, but I suspect that the high humidity in the house made it possible to do without.
There were a couple of palms inside as well, and they were nearly too big to be under a roof. There were some bananas, philodendrons, gingers, ficus, and other neat plants. Of course there weren’t any labels, though. Everyone going through the house just had to be content with them being neat plants that made it feel like a jungle. I don’t suppose many of the people going through the house really cared much anyway.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest in the US, landing in New Zealand was a little bit like landing in plant nerd paradise. Cordylines (especially Cordyline australis) are everywhere here. They literally grow like weeds alongside the road, and in people’s yards. Twenty-foot tall weeds. The same goes for Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax). It grows everywhere, like regular grass back in the States. Except for the fact that it gets to huge proportions, with sword-like blades swaying in the breeze six feet in the air. Not to mention the seed spikes towering above you at over eight feet. Imagine trying to walk through an incredibly dense field of flax… nearly impossible to go anywhere fast. At least they aren’t armed, like a field of agaves!
Tecomanthe speciosa is a pretty neat vine that very nearly went extinct on New Zealand. It was found as a single plant in 1945, having been decimated by introduced goats before botanists found it. Through some serious effort, it was saved and has now become a popular tropical-looking vine throughout the northern end of New Zealand. If you can get your hands on some seeds, it will grow vigorously and reach maturity in a few years. It is just coming into bloom now, but should be covered in large white trumpet-like flowers soon.
There is only one palm tree that is native to New Zealand, although many palms do very well here. Rhopalostylis sapida (Nīkau Palm) has some incredible architecture to it, and is a fine palm to represent NZ. Cold hardy, the corresponding latitude of it’s native range in the northern hemisphere is as far north as Medford, Oregon. It’s a very slow grower, but it is maintenance free compared to fast growing palms. When you see a mature stand of nīkau in person, you can’t help but be in awe. Even as street trees, they are pretty cool. Which is good, because they are everywhere.
The palms above are still small, and look pretty bizarre… just like giant shaving brushes. Whatever you think they look like, the upright leaves give the nīkau a clean and tidy appearance.
A Freycinetia banksii (Keikei, a NZ native) has invaded a nice stand of nīkaus at the Auckland Botanic Garden.
Now that I’ve got myself a reliable source of electricity, I can start to wade through the pictures I’ve been taking since arriving in New Zealand. Hopefully that means I can start to put together some sort of record of where I am!