Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


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Mamaku Tree Fern 3929

The mamaku, Cyathea medullaris, is one of New Zealand’s best-known tree ferns, distinguished by a trunk that’s often so dark as to appear black. With regard to all the tree ferns, it’s common to see dying and dead fronds hanging downwards, as in this February 8th view from within the bush on Tiritiri Matangi Island off the tip of the Whangaparaoa* Peninsula north of Auckland.

And here’s a closer look at a mamaku from the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on February 14th:

Mamaku Tree Fern Detail 4566


* In words of Māori origin, wh is pronounced f.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2015 at 5:32 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Looks charred, doesn’t it?


    March 23, 2015 at 6:09 AM

    • It looks that way, doesn’t it? Is that not a normal look for the mamaku?

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2015 at 6:18 AM

      • I am sure it is but I have not seen one close up in a long while.


        March 23, 2015 at 6:53 AM

        • As Shakespeare might have had Hamlet say to Ophelia in an alternate universe: get thee to a nursery—or better yet, the New Zealand section of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Unfortunately, except for some low-growing little ferns and a few other native plants along the entrance way that comes in next to the museum on Rolleston Ave., all of the native New Zealand species we saw were in the farthest western section of the gardens, close to the north-south stretch of the Avon River, and the longest walk for visitors to get to. My fantasy was to lift up the entire place, turn it around, and set it back down with the New Zealand section adjacent to the museum and therefore accessible to the greatest number of visitors.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 23, 2015 at 7:11 AM

          • That is a very sensible fantasy. No doubt if it were to become reality many of our more conservative citizens would be upset, but others would embrace it. It would perhaps be in keeping with the some of the ideas/interests that were about during the early days of Christchurch’s European settlement. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3c25/cockayne-leonard


            March 23, 2015 at 8:25 AM

            • Yes, I gathered that the same Anglo-centric attitude that led to things like the New Zealand plants being stuck in the back of the gardens is still alive in various places, some more than others. When we visited the cathedral in Nelson I mentioned to the docent that I hadn’t seen a single native species of wildflower on the property, and she said that Nelson was a particularly traditional (meaning Anglo) area.

              Regarding your link, I first heard of Leonard Cockayne in the very western section of Christchurch Botanic Gardens that I mentioned in my comment; a portion of that New Zealand section is a memorial garden dedicated to him. The second time I heard of him was at Otari in Wellington, where he’s buried.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 23, 2015 at 12:16 PM

              • I am pleased you noticed the Leonard Cockayne connections at the Gardens and at Otari. Not much, if anything, escapes your attention.


                March 23, 2015 at 7:33 PM

  2. What a fun idea. As I’ve gotten older I notice it isn’t as much fun to walk as it used to be, and it would be a great advantage if we could pick up beautiful places and turn them about from time to time. Plus it would be fun to see how ruffled the feathers would get of the reactionaries 🙂
    Personally, I prefer to see dying fronds and other untidiness on plants. I think that is what I found so disturbing in Cape Coral…everything had been groomed to within an inch of its life, as my mother would say. It looked surreal.


    March 23, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    • That’s a good phrase, groomed to within an inch of its life. I know what you mean, and I generally do my nature photography in the wild (the “wild” including undeveloped lots in town, highway margins, and other such places. One advantage, though, to cultivated collections of native plants is that there are often signs identifying some of the species, and there may be people around who can answer questions and also identify species. Signs helped me in several native plant gardens in New Zealand.

      You’re welcome to try putting my fantasy into practice. If you get it to work, let me know how you did it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2015 at 12:22 PM

  3. Quite different, to a degree, from the ferns we see here. The previous years’ fronds remain as dried bits and pieces, but they are usually lighter in color and form dense mats at the foot of the plants.
    Is that a vine of some sort at the right all curly?

    Steve Gingold

    March 23, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    • Yes, as different as ferns get, I imagine.

      And yes again, the structure at the right was a vine. This time, though, New Zealand has nothing on Texas, because we have some huge vines in the woods here as well (rattan and mustang grape being the two I’m most familiar with).

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2015 at 3:09 PM

  4. They are always so interesting. I love the crooked branch in the first image. Great finds

    Raewyn's Photos

    March 23, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    • The prominent looping structure at the right in that first image was a large vine, but I don’t know what kind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2015 at 3:11 PM

  5. I’ve come to love the black tree ferns, and I always look for them whenever I get a chance to have a nice hike in the NZ bush. I’ll ask my naturalist friend (who will eventually answer my referred question about your pohutukawa/rata flower) if he can identify it. I’m confident that he can, but don’t hold your breath for a prompt reply. It will come eventually.


    March 24, 2015 at 6:35 PM

    • I’ve assumed both photos show a mamaku, but if I’m wrong I’m happy to be set straight.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2015 at 7:04 PM

      • I meant about trying to identify the vine. Sorry if I made it confusing! (And still waiting for an answer…)


        March 27, 2015 at 4:16 PM

  6. The variation in plants and their adaptations is so truly amazing. The info was interesting and the photos were so outstanding.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    March 24, 2015 at 6:51 PM

    • Let’s hope you can hop over to the other side of the Pacific to see these things for yourself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2015 at 7:05 PM

  7. As soon as I saw that vine, I thought of rattan. And I’d noticed earlier the similarity in growth patterns between our palms and the ferns: i.e., the inclination of dead fronds to hang around. It’s interesting to see how much black can be found in the landscape: rocks, ferns, etc. It’s an interesting landscape.


    March 24, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    • I thought of rattan too, but I don’t think that’s what this was. As for the dead fronds, they were so common in New Zealand that I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some in this series. The black ferns were so unusual (at least in my limited experience) that I had to include them as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2015 at 10:23 PM

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