Posted on 01st September, 2015
Several months ago Laurie Metcalf contacted us to say that he was revising his book New Zealand Trees and Shrubs and would like to come north to take some photos of Northland plants around our garden and some photos of trees in the wild.He was particularly keen to have photos of the recently discovered tree Ackama nubicola.
Last week he flew from his home in Nelson and I met him at Onerahi Airport. Fortunately it was one of the few reasonably fine spells of good weather over the last month or so and he was able to take photos around the nursery gardens. Early the next day we headed off to the Hokianga and up on to the Waima range. To South Islanders these mountains would be regarded as mere foot hills but to us in the north they are our highest peaks. Te Raupua is 781 meters above sea level! - over 2000ft, and often covered in a blanket of cloud. The locals will tell you that every now and then, during a cold winter, there can be snow on the tops. I'm pleased to say that the day we went up it didn't snow and was a perfectly clear day with a nip in the air. Had it not been for the help of a friendly local our chances of finding the Ackama would have been nearly impossible.
As the Ackama nubicola grows to around 15 meters high and is quite visible from a track running up a ridge line it is quite remarkable that it remained undiscovered for such a long time. Ackama is from a genus of four trees, two in Australia and two in New Zealand. Ackama nubicolatranslated from Latin means "cloud dweller" its local name Turoa onamata meaning "standing tall from a long time ago". The tree's distribution on the range is very limited. Only about two hundred trees remain in the dip of a small saddle. It would seem likely that just one or two remnant trees survived forest clearance and decades of attempts to farm the area by burning every summer to encourage new fresh grass growth, as was the practice in the day. Today with no grazing and no burning it appears to be regenerating up the slope of the saddle. Quite a number of young trees are emerging from the surrounding bracken.
As you would expect Ackama nubicola looks very similar toAckama rosifolia or Makamaka, however the leaves are much bigger and the large round yellow stipules are conspicuous from quite a distance. This feature, I understand was the distinguishing factor in its discovery. The trees were growing on private land and were spotted by two Department of Conservation officers who were carrying out a survey of the area prior to it being purchased by the Crown and added to the Waima Forest Park. Cutting material was collected at the time and given to me to propagate. It rooted readily and after two years the eight trees grown had reached a height of around 1.5m to 2m. Unfortunately since the Department of Conservation collected these trees from the nursery to transplant all have died. I do not believe that this is any indication that the tree is hard to grow. I believe it would make an excellent garden plant in cultivation. However, the current Department of Conservation policy precludes any cultivation of the tree
Laurie Metcalf is among the world's leading experts on the flora of New Zealand. He has worked in botanical gardens in Australia, both in Melbourne and in Adelaide. He was Assistant Director of the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. From 1977 to 1992 he was Director of Parks and Recreation for the Invercargill City Council. He is the International Registrar for cultivation of the genus Hebe and has many national and international honours. Laurie Metcalf is certainly one of New Zealand's leading horticulturists and the author of eleven books. His current revision of his book New Zealand Trees and Shrubs will be the 5th since it was first published in 1972.
Along with full botanical descriptions, distribution details and accounts of how species and cultivars ended up in cultivation, he shares his practical advice for the successful growing conditions of these plants in our gardens.