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Facts about dactylanthus

Dactylanthus taylori in flower, Mangaweka Reserve.
Dactylanthus taylori in flower,
Mangaweka Reserve

Dactylanthus (Dactylanthus taylorii) is a highly unusual plant, and holds a special place in New Zealand's indigenous flora as the only fully parasitic flowering plant.

This fascinating plant grows as a root-like stem attached to the root of a host tree. In response to dactylanthus, the host root moulds into the shape of a fluted wooden rose, which gives the plant its previous common name of wood rose. It is through this placenta-like attachment that dactylanthus draws all its nutrients.

The Maori name for dactylanthus is "pua o te reinga," meaning 'flower of the underworld,' and alludes to the way its flowers emerge from below ground.

Dactylanthus is currently regarded as being in serious decline. A Department of Conservation Recovery Plan is in action.

Interesting ecology

  • Dactylanthus has no green leaves or roots of its own.
  • Dactylanthus has a strong scent, which is useful for attracting pollinators.
  • Dactylanthus is pollinated by the short-tailed bat.
  • Dactylanthus has separate male and female plants.

Habitat

Dactylanthus occurs in widely scattered sites. It prefers damp but well drained places, and is often found growing at the head of small streams. It lives where trees form a dense, leafy canopy and the ground is well covered in tall forest, or marginal shrub land. It is normally found on flat sites, but is sometimes found on vertical rock faces where roots are exposed.

Population and range

Since dactylanthus grows underground it is impossible to know the number of plants that exist. However, the distribution and number of plants has declined recently, and there are likely to be only a few thousand remaining.

Dactylanthus has always been a difficult plant to find, and has never been considered common. Dactylanthus is found from Northland to Wairarapa, with the largest populations in East Cape and the central plateau. There is also a small population on Little Barrier Island.

Unfortunately collectors are still digging up the plant, but the practice is discouraged and seems to be declining.

Further information

The Department of Conservation welcomes any comments or suggestions you may have about the conservation of Dactylanthus. These can be directed to the recovery group via any office of the department.


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