Curious creatures get along just fine

photo by David Mudge
A short-tailed bat gets itself covered in wood rose pollen as it feeds on the parasitic plant’s curious flowers.

Some partnerships just seem right – cheese and crackers, McCaw and Carter, bats and wood roses.

These last two get along perfectly because New Zealand’s short-tailed bat is about the only bat in the world to spend most of its life on the forest floor. The wood rose is a parasitic plant that lives on tree roots and relies on the bat to pollinate its flowers.

These bats and wood roses are rarities and, like many of New Zealand’s unique species, are struggling to survive.

The Department of Conservation estimates that only a few thousand wood rose plants are left in the New Zealand bush. The Aongatete Forest Project is hoping to help stop the decline by introducing wood roses into the local forest.

“These are incredible plants,” says Project chair Barbara McGillivray. “It’s not a rose at all, but the main part of the plant that grows underground looks like a rose that has been carved into wood.”

These wooden “flowers” became collectable curiosities and were dug up in their thousands, killing the plant in the process. These days you cannot collect wood roses from public land as it is prohibited.

The full name of the wood rose is Dactylanthus taylorii, and the early collectors were known as “daccy” hunters.

Barbara says there are about 30 native trees and shrubs that are host to the wood rose, including lemonwoods and five-fingers.

“We are very excited about the possibility of sowing seed of Dactylanthus at Aongatete.”

Project members are working with Avi Holzafel from Doc, who is giving a talk on the amazing wood rose on Tuesday, March 21st.

“Avi has extraordinary time-lapse images of Dactylanthus, including the wonderful relationship between the wood rose and our bats,” says Barbara. “For anyone interested in New Zealand flora and fauna his talk will be inspiring.”

Flowers of the Underworld: Dactylanthus and Bats, 7.30pm, Tuesday 21 March, at Pahoia School Hall. Gold coin entry.

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