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New discoveries of the extremely rare, native kakabeak plant (Clianthus) have excited botanists and local DOC workers in the Hawke’s Bay.
The discovery of two previously unrecorded plants in Willowflat Forest has been described by local conservation groups as an extremely significant one, with numbers of the endangered Clianthus maximus occurring in the wild as low as 120 known plants.
Andy Fleming, Harvest Planning Manager of Rayonier Matariki Forests, says the find by the company’s contractors was particularly surprising as the plants had been in an area where the crew had been working for some months.
“The kakabeak is often mistaken for a Kowhai when not in bloom, so our guys had passed by the plants several times without taking any particular notice of them. It wasn’t until their yearly bloom produced the distinctive bright red flowers that we realised they were unmistakeably kakabeak,” says Fleming.
“The kakabeak is particularly relevant to the Hawke’s Bay as it once grew here in abundance and currently occurs naturally only from northern Hawke’s Bay to East Cape, with a few plants historically found in the Bay of Plenty region.”
Rayonier Matariki Forests staff have collected cuttings from each of the plants which will undergo DNA testing to identify any variances from other Clianthus maximus plants. The seeds collected from each plant will be used for propagation in a native tree nursery.
Alan Lee, DOC Threats Ranger for the Hawke’s Bay area, says the find of the kakabeak and the following DNA tests are both exciting and important for the future of the plant.
“This find is very significant as it is a chance to add to the genetic diversity of plants in the Hawke’s Bay population,” says Lee. “What’s more, new plants are very rarely found these days - only a handful have been found in the Hawke’s Bay over the past 10 years, despite a number of searches.
“The DNA test will ultimately show how closely related these new plants are to other kakabeak in the area. Usually, the closer the plants are geographically, the more closely related they are. As the local plants have become geographically quite isolated from each other, the seedlings propagated from these new plants will help to avoid a future genetic bottleneck,” explains Lee.
One of the major factors contributing to the decline of the kakabeak is its appeal to a wide range of pests including snails, slugs, rabbits, deer and goats that will often browse the plant to the point of killing it. Because of this, kakabeak tends only to be found on cliff faces where it is out of reach of pests.
Rayonier Matariki Forests is committed to preserving endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna, Fleming explains, and actively implements protection programmes in its forests. In the Hawke’s Bay, the foresters have worked extensively with Plant Hawke’s Bay, the Department of Conservation and the Forest Life Force Restoration Trust to ensure plants such as the kakabeak continue to thrive in the wild.
“We are now taking extra precautions to safeguard each of the newly discovered kakabeak plants against pests, isolating them with fences to make sure that this endangered plant, that is so important to our region, will continue to be enjoyed by future generations,” says Fleming.