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Cloud Forest Plants Grow to Conditions

This article was first published on 10 Mar 2021.

Cordyline indivisa

Cordyline indivisa

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

Dunedin’s local topography and weather patterns mean we can see plants near the city that normally grow at much higher altitudes. The misty rain that often covers the city’s northern hills creates damp and cool conditions for plants that thrive in ‘cloud forest’.

Walking tracks near Pigeon Flat, within easy walking distance of state highway 1, give access to drifts of the beautiful heruheru or Prince of Wales feather fern, Leptopteris superba.  Heruheru depends on and thrives in shady areas and the misty cloud.

Growing there are also fine examples of the New Zealand cedar, kaikawaka or pāhautea, Libocedrus bidwillii.  Slender and conical when young, they develop into bushy upright trees.  Kaikawaka also flourishes in the cool, misty conditions.

Another native plant that enjoys the wetter climes is tōī, or mountain cabbage tree, Cordyline indivisa (pictured). It is planted at Sullivan’s Dam, far from the mountainous and sub-alpine areas where it is wild.

Tōī is considered by some to be the most stunning of all the Cordyline.  Long leathery leaves are glaucous (blue green) with a strong, contrasting, bright orange midrib.  Each leaf is one to two metres long and roughly thirteen centimetres across.

If you can’t reach the clouds, Dunedin Botanic Garden has some beautiful examples of tōī in the lower garden car park and beside the propagation building in upper Lovelock Avenue.  Toi makes a striking garden specimen.

Kaikawaka is growing in areas of Lovelock Bush and the native conifer collection.