December 28, 2010

A True Botanical Adventure

Deb Lievens, chairman of the Londonderry Conservation Commission, and her
 husband, Robert, traveled to New Zealand last month.
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- As the longtime chairman of the Londonderry Conservation Commission, local plant enthusiast Deb Lievens is quite familiar with the destructive aftermath caused by invasive species within her own community. But traveling halfway around the world recently has definitely put some things in perspective.
Last month Lievens and her husband, Robert, spent two weeks in New Zealand, an isolated country in the southwestern Pacific comprising two large islands and numerous smaller islands.
An accomplished botanist in her own right, Lievens discovered new locations for five state-listed plants in her home state and has led botanical field trips for the state Audubon Society.
“I could go on forever,” Lievens said this week, as she pored over the hundreds upon hundreds of snapshots taken of New Zealand’s unique plant species. “The flora was magical. But, oh, the invasive species
The Lievenses were among the 30 or so mostly New England natives in a tour group sponsored by the New England Wildflower Society, of which Lievens is a member.
Following a 13-hour flight out of Los Angeles, the Lievenses embarked on an unforgettable journey spanning several islands and multiple habitats.
“The group was so congenial. For the most part they were interested in natural history,” said Lievens, who returned from New Zealand several days before Thanksgiving. “One couple was serious birders, while another guy was a paleontologist. People brought all different skill sets, but it was a very plant-oriented trip.”
Lievens said she spent much
 of her trip on the south side of the island, where the constantly snowy peaks of the 12,000foot Mt. Cook loomed on the horizon.
Hiking through sub-alpine habitats, grasslands, beaches, mountains and lakesides, Lievens said her favorite landscapes, by far, were the temperate rain forests.
Looking through pages of plant photos she’d taken along the way, Lievens said many of the species captured on film have yet to be identified.
“Every piece of vegetation had more vegetation growing on them: lichens attached to leaves and mosses growing on downed trees,” Lievens said. “There’s just no soil; something was growing on everything.”
The nation’s invasive species
 problems are many, she noted, with rivers stretching out of the mountain valleys, creating opened, disturbed areas that have proven a prime location for invasive species takeover.
Since the native Maoris brought over plants and animals not previously found on the islands, an infestation of rabbits resulted.
Stoats were brought over to help combat the rouge bunnies, but the weasel-like critters also prey on native birds, Lievens said.
St John’s Wort and the common lupine are other invasive species that have proven problematic. Lievens noted that the New Zealand natives have imported beetles with a taste for St. John’s Wort to help combat the problem, similar to what’s
 been done to remedy purple loosestrife in Londonderry.
“It seems the problems are just so big. It’s just like the non-native pine trees there, where natives are trying to remove them, but it gets to be too much,” Lievens said. “The fields of lupines go on forever. They’re beautiful but it’s very bad, and affecting local bird colonies. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to get rid of it all.”
“It just makes me worry more about our local situation, unfortunately,” she added.
Among the interesting native species she encountered were giant sarsaparilla trees; the oversized buttercups known to locals as the Mt. Cook lilly; and tiny alpine flowers no larger than the head of a pin.
Lievens said it was difficult
 locating books on New Zealand wildflowers, which she attributed to the fact that most of the nation’s native flowers don’t tend to be large and showy.
“There are a lot of smaller flowers that tend to be pollinated by night moths,” she said. “Because the rainforests are either very dry or very wet, depending on the season, there’s not very many flowers growing in the underscore like we see with lady slippers in New England.”
“When you look at the natural vegetation it just seems so different. I’ve been to Florida and California, but this was totally unrelated to the flora in this country,” Lievens added. “These plants are so far away, almost from a different evolutionary

No comments:

Post a Comment