Planting seeds is all about hope. Provided they are watered and the birds don’t scratch them up, tiny carrot seeds will put up their first feathery leaf within a week. But the equally tiny Dactylanthus seeds we sowed in the Aongatete forest in June 2018 may not poke their knobby buds out of the leaf litter for eight years!

It is not that the seeds lie dormant all that time. Their first tiny roots must reach and penetrate the root of a host plant if they are to make any progress, for Dactylanthus is parasitic. For all its life, it will rely on its host tree for food. Once a seedling becomes attached to a host root the plant will grow underground, eventually forming a mound just beneath the leaf litter. Then, and only then, will it send its flowers up to the forest floor.

It would be a lucky seed that chanced upon a suitable host plant, which is why Dactylanthus plants produce thousands of seeds from their crowded flowers. Endemic bats, New Zealand’s only native mammals, are lured by their sweet nectar and crawl over the flowers, pollinating them. ”

Now the bats are scarce and it’s possums that are lured to that sweet nectar. They don’t pollinate the flowers. They eat them. This is why Dactylanthus is so rare. Now, supported by tangata whenua from Ngai Tamawhariua and helped by DOC rangers, volunteers have planted the seeds in the Aongatete forest. We must keep up the possum control to give the project a chance. If we succeed, the Dactylanthus plants at Aongatete will be the first to be re-established in the Kaimai forest.

As we walk away from the seed sites, a robin hops down to investigate the leaf litter…