Christchurch Botanic Gardens is marking World Rainforest Week by
presenting a walking tour featuring noted botanist Bill Sykes on Tuesday
The walking tour, entitled Tempting Tropicals, will centre round the
Gardens' large collection of tropical plants in the Cuningham House.
Mr Sykes, who will tramp around the Riccarton Bush to celebrate his 80th
birthday on October 13, hopes his walking tour will enlighten many on
the true character of tropical rainforest plants.
"There is a misguided conception that all the plants in the Cuningham
House are tropical - they are not. Many of them fall in the sub-tropical
category and don't grow in rainforest," says Mr Sykes.
The tropical plants in the Cuningham House are mainly herbaceous plants
and shrubs that grow in the understorey layer - a level below the canopy
in the rainforest - and belong to a great range of species, he says.
These range from great climbing members of the arum family to little
herbaceous plants with pretty variegated leaves in the acanthus and
pepper families, plus an occasional banana plant and small palm.
As a bonus, Mr Sykes will wrap in a trip to the adjacent orchid house
and give a short talk on tropical orchids and strange carnivorous
"Most of these plants originate from either tropical America or the SE
Asia to New Guinea areas and are grown in many botanic gardens across
the world: indoors in temperate countries like New Zealand and outside
in tropical countries," he says.
His passion for botany is apparent when talking to him - at 80 he is
still bubbling over with enthusiasm for plants, their names, their
origins and their place in the web of life. He has also studied plants
extensively in the tropical Pacific islands from Vanuatu to French
And working with plants has kept him down to earth: he seldom uses his
posh-sounding name of William Russell Sykes; it is little known that he
is an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) or that he has
written and co-written three notable works on botany and published
numerous papers on botanical subjects.
Mr Sykes was born in East Anglia, England, and emigrated to New Zealand
to join the staff of Botany Division of the then D.S.I.R. in 1961.
On Tuesday, he is planning a treat for those interested in tropical
plants - he has spent time in the Cuningham House selecting tropical
plants to illustrate the flora of this region and has researched their
backgrounds for the walking tour.
"I will have to use their Latin (scientific) names as many of these
plants do not have an English name although they will have a common name
in their region of origin", he says.
Before starting the walk he will begin with a preliminary talk on the
origins and backgrounds of the tropical rainforest flora.
"Of course the dominant vegetation of such forests in their homelands
are the large, usually evergreen trees that grow to over 30 metres
(about 100 feet) high but there is obviously not room to grow these
great canopy trees in the Cuningham House," Mr Sykes says.
"Some of the tropical fig or banyan trees can cover half a hectare or
so," he says..
Walking tour starts off at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens
Conservatories near the Cuningham House at 12:10 pm, 23 Oct 2007.