September 2017 – Flowers of the Forest

Most of the flowers in the native forest are not showy. Many are small, white and – to our eyes – boring. But flowers are not designed to please us but to attract animals to carry pollen from flower to flower to fertilise their seeds. Pollinating insects like bees and butterflies can see colours but New Zealand had few native butterflies and only small, solitary bees (the familiar honey bee is introduced.)

But we have hundreds of native moths, beetles and ants, and these insects are colour-blind. Their night-time world is grey and white and many native flowers depend on them for pollination. That is why so many native flowers are white because white shows up best at night.

But there are a few colourful flowers, and one of these is flowering right now at Aongatete. It is karapapa and it has beautiful pink, scented flowers. It is showy because it attracts birds, and they have excellent colour vision. The birds reach deep into the flowers for the sweet nectar and the pollen which sticks to their heads in transferred from flower to flower.

Sadly not only birds love karapapa but so do possums, deer and goats, so you will only find these flowers in forests where there are few of these pests.

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