Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Needle-leaf grass tree

with 10 comments

Needle-Leaf Grass Tree with Caterpillar 5855

During my visit to Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington on February 20th, I stopped to photograph the unusual shrub called the needle-leaf grass tree, Dracophyllum filifolium. The genus name means ‘dragon leaf’ and the species name means ‘thread leaf.’ Threads and needles I get, but a dragon?

If you’d like a closer look at the little larva I found on this specimen, you can click on the following alternate view to enlarge it.

Caterpillar on Needle-Leaf Grass Tree 5860

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 14, 2015 at 5:05 AM

10 Responses

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  1. Which end is the eating end? How large is the beast?

    Jim in IA

    May 14, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    • I think the tan-colored end that’s down in these pictures is the eating end, although during the minutes I was there I didn’t see the caterpillar doing any obvious eating that would have confirmed that. As for size, sometimes I’ve measured a subject against a finger or other object I have with me so I can determine its length after I get home. I didn’t do that here, but I’d say the critter was no more than an inch long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 14, 2015 at 7:09 AM

  2. The needle-leaves remind me of our long-leaf pine. One of the first signs of squirrel nest-building around here are random small branches with the needles still attached lying on the ground.

    Did I laugh to see the caterpillar? Yes, I certainly did.

    The mention of needles and thread reminded me of this, from Walker Percy’s novel, “Lancelot”: “To live in the past and future is easy. To live in the present is like threading a needle.”


    May 14, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    • I had the same thought about pine needles, which we even call needles. In Austin there are occasionally similar signs of imminent nest building except the felled little branches are from Ashe juniper trees, which, as you know, are as common in central Texas as long-leaf pines are in the eastern part of the state.

      As for the caterpillar, it was one of only two or three insects I photographed in New Zealand. I don’t know why so few came my way there, when in Austin I hardly ever go out in nature without seeing at least some insects, and often many.

      Noticing the name of Walker Percy’s novel and making the best of living in the present, I can’t pass up this moment to say that needles come in handy to lance a lot of things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 14, 2015 at 10:43 AM

  3. Perhaps the orange needles made people think of a dragon’s flames shooting up. Though the caterpillar looks more like a dragon in waiting to me.

    Emily Scott

    May 16, 2015 at 1:50 AM

    • Your vision of orange needles suggesting flames seems as good as anyone’s. I’ve heard of a lady-in-waiting but not till now of a dragon in waiting, which strikes me as a happy phrase.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 16, 2015 at 7:39 AM

  4. No thank you. I’ve seen plenty squiggly green worms as fishing bait for Dad and eating our vegetables in the garden!

    Sammy D.

    May 17, 2015 at 12:33 PM

  5. Of course, I have never seen a Needle-leaf grass tree, but even at that the larva steals the show for me. So plump and healthy…I hope it reached adulthood.

    Steve Gingold

    May 17, 2015 at 6:16 PM

    • My attention quickly shifted from the needle-leaf grass tree to the caterpillar on it, partly because of the insect’s intrinsic interest and partly because I’d hardly photographed any insects in New Zealand. Whether this caterpillar reached adulthood I can’t say, nor do I know whether it was on its way to becoming a butterfly or a moth.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 17, 2015 at 7:32 PM

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