A giant grows at Aongatete. It’s not a tree or a fern or a flower – it’s a moss. It is the Giant moss, the tallest moss in the world.
Mosses are usually short, like green carpet under the trees, but the Giant moss looks like a miniature forest of pine seedlings. Up to 50cm tall, a forest of Giant moss grows along the banks of the track near the Aongatete swimming hole.
The Giant moss only grows in New Zealand and its scientific name is Dawsonia superba, Dawsonia after an early moss expert and superba because they are so big.
If you look closely you will see that some plants have slender stalks and heads. These are female plants and the head or capsule is full of spores. Other plants have frills up the stem. These are male plants.
Within each frill sperms are produced, to fertilise the female plant. A new frill grows every year.
Mosses have a very ancient lineage. Their ancestors are much, much older than trees or ferns or dinosaurs. They were amongst the first plants to grow on land. But because they rely for fertilisation on microscopic sperm swimming in rain drops, they cannot grow in dry places and they cannot grow very tall. That is what makes our Giant moss so extraordinary.
Maori noticed this special moss and they likened it to the whiskery face of the kakapo. They called it pahau-kakapo, ‘the moustache of the kakapo’. What a great name!