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Looks Delicate, Acts Tough

This article was first published on 23 May 2016.

Gunnera prorepens

Gunnera prorepens

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

Autumn planting time is here! Finally some rain has graced our fair region, and has added some much-needed moisture to the soil.

If you have a particularly damp or boggy spot in your garden here’s a cute native groundcover that will thrive in moist conditions.

Gunnera prorepens is one of five native species of diminutive, moisture-loving groundcovers. In the wild this species grows from Waikato southward, more commonly in wetter western areas. It occurs in boggy and damp places in forest, sphagnum bogs, grasslands and herbfields from sea level to 1000m.

In the garden Gunnera prorepens can be quite a vigorous plant. It appears rather delicate, but when growing well it is virtually maintenance free. And while it is a good spreader, it is not a thug – it will creep around your other plantings, covering several square metres if you let it, but is easily kept in check if space is limited.

In Dunedin Botanic Garden’s native plant collection, specimens of Gunnera prorepens are thriving in a moist but sunny spot, gradually spreading to form a tight carpet. The small, chocolate-brown to green, purple-tinged leaves hug the ground and do a good job of suppressing most weeds.

The best thing about this species is the ornamental fruit, which grow on the female plants. Standing above the foliage on 8cm tall spikes, it lasts for many weeks over autumn.

Head to the lawn in the native plant collection and look out for the scarlet spires emerging from carpets of creeping foliage.

Kate Caldwell is curator of the native plant collection at Dunedin Botanic Garden.