Winter may not always bring the best weather for outdoor adventures, but it can bring excellent opportunities for epiphyters. A few of us recently went for a hike on Mt. Pirongia, and were surprised at what we found!
Not long after we began our ascent, we were excited to find a beautiful mass of Huperzia varia that had fallen off its perch, lying right beside the track - an excellent opportunity to look at it up close. I was surprised to learn that the plant does grow quite large, and the foliage feels very soft, unlike the similar looking, scratchy leaves of rimu.
Later on, we came across a large branch lying on the track. Another casualty of the recent stormy weather. To most, a fallen branch is simply something to step over or walk around, but to those who appreciate the canopy dwellers there is more than meets the eye. The branch was covered in a dense moss cover which provided a perfect substrate for the roots of Earina to gain hold and obtain resources.
As we made our way back towards the carpark, a fellow tramper notified us of a fallen tree further along the track. Once again, he regarded this as an obstruction, but Catherine and I were happy for another chance to see some epiphytes up close! It turned out to be half of the main trunk of a large pukatea. It was difficult at first to decide what the host was, as there was a mass of foliage on the ground full of epiphytes. The branch was full of Rubus so we were hesitant to get too close, but we could see that there was a huge number of species living in that tree!
Without climbing any trees, we had a great chance to see some epiphytes from the ground! Although we prefer not to have the wind and rain, we can be witness to the process of succession, and be thankful for bringing those epiphytes down to our level!
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I work with NZ's native vascular epiphytes at the University of Waikato. I completed an MSc on epiphyte ecology and the shrub epiphyte Griselinia lucida and have recently published the Field Guide to NZ's Epiphytes, Vines & Mistletoes.