Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: A colorful seep

with 28 comments

Colorful Seep 5217

Driving along SH 6 north of Punakaiki on the west side of New Zealand’s South Island on February 17th, I caught some flashes of bright colors off to my right on the highway embankment, so I pulled over at the first safe spot and walked back to investigate. I found that the place I’d seen was a seep whose slow but steady oozing of water had nourished the lush growth you see here. If you can take your eyes off the rich reds and oranges, note also the slender green leaves on some young flax plants, Phormium tenax, known in Māori as harakeke.

UPDATE: Thanks to Peter Beveridge, who writes: “Looks to me like the relatively common liverwort Syzygiella colorata.  You know the usual reluctance to be definite about these things in the absence of a close look but this seems highly likely.” In searching online, I see that the species has also been known as Jamesoniella colorata.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2015 at 5:10 AM

28 Responses

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  1. If only all seeps and leaks were this attractive.


    April 14, 2015 at 5:39 AM

  2. I saw the title and read it as ‘Colorful Sheep.’ My heart skipped a beat! After reading more closely I wonder whether the lush growth is moss?

    Pairodox Farm

    April 14, 2015 at 5:55 AM

    • After your last three posts about new lambs, and especially your current one about their patterns, I can see how that would seep into your imagination and color your interpretation.

      I’ve assumed the red-orange growth on the rocks is a type of moss, but much more colorful than any I’ve ever seen in the United States.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 6:47 AM

  3. A nautical connection? Well, yes. When I looked at the photo, my first thought was of polyurethane pour foam that somehow had escaped from a project. The foam’s colors can vary but I once saw some that was reddish-orange being used to fill the pontoons of a previously useless inflatable dinghy. If someone’s not skilled at using it, the excess can squeeze out and look just like this.

    Looking at the photo, I’m wondering if the reds and oranges are some sort of rust fungus. It looks as though it’s spreading, off to the left, and even a couple of flax blades have a slight tint of red. In any event, I can see why it caught your eye, and why you stopped. New Zealand certainly has some unusual sights!


    April 14, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    • The nautical world is so different from the terrestrial one. I’d never heard of polyurethane pour foam, but I expect artists have expanded its use from internal filler to external attention-getter.

      As for what the colorful stuff is, I’m still inclining toward moss. Here’s a closeup:

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 8:13 AM

      • You’re right. The color’s clearly more than surface. In this photo, it looks like some undersea plant. I can imagine it in a tropical tidal pool, or on a reef.


        April 14, 2015 at 1:47 PM

        • In the closeup I likewise had the impression of underwater organisms clinging to rocks and swaying in the ocean currents.

          A friend suggested a few possibilities for what this might be: liverwort, club moss, spike moss. I’ve e-mailed someone in New Zealand who may know or who may know somebody who does.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 14, 2015 at 1:55 PM

          • In the article you linked, it mentions that some liverworts possess cilia: “minute hairlike organelles, identical in structure to flagella, that line the surfaces of certain cells and beat in rhythmic waves…” Whether this batch does or doesn’t have cilia is impossible for me to say, but it’s an interesting connection to the impressions we had of undersea, wave-like motion.


            April 15, 2015 at 7:55 AM

            • I’ll now set the air undulating by casting a wink your way, because Latin cilium meant “eyelid.’ Biologists began using the plural cilia with the transferred meaning of ‘the little hairs that grow out of an eyelid’ and then more generally the little hairs in the definition you cited.

              I never got close enough to these bright red-orange liverworts to see their structure. The color is what grabbed me, but I’m sorry now I didn’t take a closer look.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 15, 2015 at 9:16 AM

  4. Beautiful stuff – it’s like slow lava.

    Chas Spain

    April 14, 2015 at 8:34 AM

  5. I really like the composition of this photo, Steve. The colors contrast beautifully with each other. Seeps are special, aren’t they? Always happy to come across one.


    April 14, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    • I like seeps at home too because of the vegetation they promote, but this is by far the most colorful seep I remember ever seeing. As for the composition, I’m also pleased with it, thanks to that bright but irregular band of rich color that largely separates the rock below from the foliage above.

      It just occurred to me that the red-orange band looks somewhat like Central America on a map.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 12:48 PM

  6. Lovely find. I have never seen anything like it.

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 14, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    • Neither have I. I’m still hoping to find out what it is, and then we might also learn how commonly it occurs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 5:14 PM

    • Just minutes after I answered your comment I got a reply to an e-mail I’d sent, and based on that I’ve just added an update at the end of the post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 5:49 PM

  7. Such a glorious array of colors. I would have pulled over for a closer look, too, as I have many times before, occasionally to the consternation of my passengers.


    April 14, 2015 at 7:16 PM

    • I’m not surprised to hear you would have pulled over too. I’m always ready to spend more time photographing than other (i.e. non-photographer) people, and I’ve concluded that nature photography is primarily a solitary pursuit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2015 at 8:35 PM

  8. I’m always delighted to come across such growths while bushwalking. Often the terrain is quite dry and rocky, and to see a bright green (or other colour) patch like this always has me stopping to investigate the source of the moisture. Quite interesting how moisture can create a tiny oasis that has such clearly defined borders. I’m usually never quite sure about mosses and liverworts. I will have to get myself a field guide one day. Someone else commented that it looks like slow lava. That’s what I was thinking too.


    April 14, 2015 at 10:18 PM

    • I’m used to bright green at seeps, which we have our share of in central Texas, the rich orange and red “slow lava” at this seep was unique to me. I’ve occasionally photographed ferns and mosses here, but never to my knowledge liverworts, which I know almost nothing about. There’s too much out there for anyone to learn, I’m afraid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2015 at 7:34 AM

  9. Fascinating, the world is so full of such amazing things…You captured it so wonderfully.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    April 14, 2015 at 11:32 PM

    • I took a bunch of pictures here and originally had a view from a little farther back in this post, but then I decided this one is better. I’m glad I made the swap.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2015 at 7:37 AM

  10. This coloful mass looks like a bright orange surf sweeping over the rock. The previously mentioned lava is apt as well.

    Steve Gingold

    April 15, 2015 at 3:44 AM

    • I was on a coastal highway so a surf was indeed close by, but behind me and blue rather than the orange I’d turned to face. It’s good of your imagination to combine the two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2015 at 7:40 AM

  11. […] Yesterday’s post has just gotten an update that gives a likely identification of the vividly red-orange plants you saw […]

  12. I love the word ‘seep’

    jane tims

    April 18, 2015 at 6:19 AM

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