How little we know

If you follow this blog, you know that I focus a lot on Wellington and the surrounding area at the bottom of the North Island of New Zealand. This area is serviced by the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) who at the end of 2018 published Forest Ecosystems of the Wellington Region. This an amazing resource that identifies and maps the extent of pre-European ecosystems, describes their biological and physical characteristics, and gives an estimate of how much of each ecosystem still exists.

I recently read Ngā uruora: The Groves of Life. Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape by Geoff Park (1995). I was particularly taken by his chapter on the Kaipiti / Horowhenua coastal / lowland forests where he talks of the extent of the pre-European forest, how quickly it was cleared and how little is left today.

Geoff Park’s writes of “subtropical lushness that cloaked Horowhenua’s low country. … Mātai, tōtara and rimu wooded the drier flats and sand dunes, kahikatea and pukatea the swamps and lake margins. ‘Shaded with lofty forest … banks clothed with beautiful evergreens to the water’s edge, studded with lovely wooded islets … fringes of raupo alternating with overhanging bush.’”

Of interest to me is the kahikatea, pukatea swamp forests which are considered critically endangered in the Wellington region as they have been reduced to 1% of their pre-European area. It now only exists as remnant pockets of forest. One remnant is Ngā Manu nature reserve in Waikanae. I first visited Ngā Manu 35 years ago, when it was first established, and it seemed at the time to be this isolated piece of bush in the middle of no where. Today its surrounded by urban development and motorways.

Nga Manu, Waikanae [Google maps]

We know very little about the fungi of this coastal plain and even less about the fungi that are associated with this swamp forest ecosystem. A list of fungi was drawn up by Jerry Cooper after the Fungal Network of New Zealand annual foray in May 2009. The list consisted of about 69 collections (not species).

Campanella vinosolivida (FUNNZ2009/1667)

Jerry wrote:

The list contains predominantly indigenous fungi which is unusual for an urban locality and emphasizes the unmodified nature of this reserve. The obvious introductions are Amanita muscaria, Favolaschia calocera, Leratiomyces ceres and Phragmidium violaceum. The first two are known fungal weeds of indigenous forests. The third is a cosmopolitan wood chip species originating in Australia, and the last is an introduction from Europe by way of Australia and specific to Rubus fruticosus, itself an invasive weed.

The remainder of the list are reasonably common, except Melanotus vorax, currently only known from two other collections and Campanella vinosolivida which isn’t especially common. The highlight is a very distinctive Macrotyphula growing on dead Phormium leaves alongside the board walk. No name has been found for the fungus and its presence on a common host indicates a potentially locally restricted and nationally uncommon taxon.

Melanotus vorax (FUNNZ2009/1689)

This report is very much a snapshot of what was collected in one afternoon and does not represent any systematic sampling. I’m keenly looking for funding to support systematic sampling and to develop a management strategy to ensure the survival of the fungi that naturally occur in this “critically endangered” ecosystem

So, watch this blog.


Cooper J 2009. Fungal Network of New Zealand (FUNNZ) 23rd Annual Foray, Waikanae, May 2009. Site List for Nga Manu Reserve, 12th May 2009.

Singers N, Crisp P, Spearpoint O 2018. Forest Ecosystems of the Wellington Region. Greater Wellington Regional Council, Publication No. GW/ESCI-G-18-164, Wellington

When worlds collide

Late last year I went to the joint conference of the Australasian Systematic Botany Society and the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network held at Te Papa in Wellington, and the New Zealand Ecological Society Conference held at Lincoln University. At both conferences there were talks and discussions on the use of Te Reo Māori by systematists to name new species. I couldn’t help but feel a lot of what I was hearing was based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of binomial nomenclature exacerbated by two and a half centuries of bad practice. In particular, the dissension is about the use of Te Reo to form Latin names, but interestingly often referred to as “to name a new species” without mention of vernacular or common names! Of concern to Māori is the use of peoples’ names, place names, organism names to form the Latin binomial without an understanding of their whakapapa and without consultation and agreement from Māori.

Whakapapa – connection, lineage, or genealogy between humans and ecosystems and all flora and fauna. Māori seek to understand the total environment or whole system and its connections through whakapapa, not just a part of these systems, and their perspective today is holistic and integrated (Hamsworth and Awatere, 2013)

So, let’s go back to the beginning – why Latin? In the middle ages this was the language of the church, the church ran the universities, so if you could speak Latin you could communicate with educated people all over Europe no matter what their native tongue. It was the practice in the late Middle Ages to use Latin to describe a “species” first with a group name, followed by a descriptive sentence. For example, Arum summis labris degustantes mutos reddens which translates as the arum lily which strikes dumb those who do but taste it. It’s a wonderful way to identify the species but not a lot of use in the field unless you are prepared to eat it.

With the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, and the Enlightenment, European knowledge of the natural world grew tremendously and a way to structure this knowledge was needed. Jump to Carl Linnaeus born in Sweden in 1707. Linnaeus took the group or generic name, in our example Arum, and gave the species a single word that would separate it from all other arum lilies, in this case maculata, Arum maculata, meaning spotted leaves, the arum lily with the spotted leaves. This was the key character that set this species apart from other species of arum lilies.

What Linnaeus was doing, in old speak, was creating a filename tag, say for a hanging file, into which all new information about a species could be placed, accumulated and retrieved. The file could also be re-organised amongst other files as the higher-level classifications changed. In new speak, he had created the first consistent metadata that would be the key to all the data and knowledge that was being accumulated about a species. I am suggesting here that the Latin binomial not be viewed as a name, but as prime metadata. However, other scientists both professional and amateurs have failed to appreciate the binomial as metadata and have treated it as the “one true name”.

Is there is a degree of snobbery in here? [photo Geoff Ridley]

There have also been significant deviations from the Linnaean ideal for the species epithet including such lazy practices as the use of geographic names, and naming species to reward patronage or honour the famous. These names provide no essential clue to the species identification. As Latin and classical Greek words were used up systematists also drew on other languages to provide the species epithet. In the New Zealand context, this has led to inadvertent conflict with Māori by developing binomials drawn from Te Reo.

As a young man, in a mostly white university, in a country that was just beginning to see itself as bicultural I made the decision to go back to first principles in naming my new species. However, I decided I should draw my descriptive species epithet from Te Reo. The words I used were: taiepa, a fence; nehuta, dust; peke (Latinised to pekeoides) a sack or bag; karea, ripples; puma + tona, grey and warts; pareparina, a palisade; and mumura, blushing. As a white boy in a white world I didn’t know to consult, and I didn’t know how to consult anyway and looking back now I hope I did not create offence.

Looking forward, and only thinking about what we should do in Aotearoa New Zealand I think we should go back to first principles and use only descriptive species epithets and not use peoples’ names, place names, or other organism names from any language. However, if it is acceptable to Māori use Te Reo as a source of descriptive epithets, as I did for the Amanita, it needs to be on the understanding that it conforms to the various codes of biological nomenclature. At the same time as describing a new species we should be asking Māori if they want to supply a Te Reo name that can be linked to the Latin binomial but, on the understanding, there may be several such names to meet regional differences. For instance, Hericium novae-zelandiae (this is a lazy name, see above) is pekepekekiore in Te Reo and the icicle tooth fungus in vernacular English.

It is something to think about.


Harmsworth GR, Awatere S 2013. Indigenous Māori knowledge and perspectives of ecosystems. In Dymond JR ed. Ecosystem services in New Zealand – conditions and trends. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand

McClellan PH 2019. Taxonomic punchlines: metadata in biology, Historical Biology

Newton DP 1986. The world view of Linnaeus. Journal of Biological Education 20: 175-178

Ridley GS 2004. A system for the development of English language names for agarics and boletes in New Zealand (And Australia?). Australasian Mycologist 23(1): 27-30

Knapp S 2000. What’s in a name? Linnaeus’ marginal jottings created order out of botanical chaos. Nature 408 (6808, 2 November): 33


Poplar rust strikes again!

I turned the gas tap on and struck the match.  It ignited perfectly. Except the top quarter of the match stick snapped and spun away across the lab bench in a flaming cart wheel. WTF!

A vintage Beehive matchbox [photo Geoff Ridley]

Turn the gas off, get another match out of the box and start the process again. And do this several times more until I finally get the Bunsen burner lit. Its the end of the 1970s and I’m sitting in Dr J Edmund Sheridan’s mycology and plant pathology lab of the fourth floor of the New Kirk Building at Victoria University of Wellington. And this is where I start as a newbie mycologist.

Cars parked off Tory Street, Wellington, Bryant & May building in the background, 2 May 1958 [photo Evening Post]

If you read Let’s not forget poplar rust then that New Zealand imported poplar timber from Canada to make matches. Ever country, at that time, had a distinctive brand and ours was Beehive.  R Bell and Co, a London based company, started making matches in New Zealand in 1895, in Cornhill Street, Wellington. The company merged with Britain’s Bryant and May, and where registered in New Zealand as Bryant and May, Bell and Co in 1910. The company prospered and Bryant and May moved to a new factory in Tory Street, Wellington in 1924 (Salter, 2016). Here they stayed until 1971 when the then Prime Minister, Sir Keith Holyoake open a new factory, in Upper Hutt, capable of making a million matches ever 12 minutes during an 8-hour shift.

Upper Hutt factory design [picture from Upper Hutt Heritage Collection]

At the time of opening Bryant and May to produce there matches from home grown poplar timber rather than imported. In the words of Dr Sheridan:

The first plantings of poplar trees for match splint production in New Zealand were made in 1972 by Bryant and May (NZ) Ltd at Gladstone in the Wairarapa district of the North Island, New Zealand. In the following year European poplar leaf rust caused by Melampsora larici-populina Klebahn was recognised for the first time in the district and many of the hybrid poplars proved very susceptible. At that time little was known about the methods or economics of control in large plantations and nothing about the effect of the disease on tree growth and wood quality. It came to be generally believed that it was uneconomic to spray with fungicides and that the wood from trees which had been attacked by rust was unsuitable for match splint production. Rust resistant varieties were planted but these proved unsuitable for various reasons. The upshot was that the poplar growing venture was abandoned in 1975 and the farm sold in 1978.

At the same time Bryant and May where looking at alternative timber which lead to a trial with native red beech (Nothofagus / Fuscospora fusca). The Labour MP for West Coast, Paddy Blanchfield said during the Appropriation Bill – Estimates,  in 1975:

Match splints were now being processed experimentally from beech trees. Bryant and May had been using imported splints for many years, but in Grafton, in Australia, New Zealand beech timber had been used for match splints, and good results were obtained were obtained. Had the Minister considered that proposal? After all, the beech timber was available in New Zealand and could be processed in Reefton.

Melampsora larici-populina infected poplars [photo Landcare Research]

However, this wasn’t such a success and again Ed Sheridan quoting from the Forest Industries Review  (August 1975) “Attempts to utilise native red beech … for match splints proved disastrous”. These were my cart-wheeling, flaming match heads which I suspect might not have been the only problems.

As far as I can tell, in January 1979 a new 12,000-square-foot splint complex opened with supplies New Zealand wood (presumably poplar) having been arranged. But, the match industry’s problems were not over as the economic reforms of the mid 1980s opened the market to imported matches, the rise of disposable fluid lighters, the advent of stoves and gas fires with electronic ignitions, and the replacement of open fires with electrical and gas heating all resulted in increasing competing in a small market. During this time Bryant and May changed ownership and manufacturing was transferred overseas. Although you can still buy Beehive matches that are now produced in Sweden.

So, while the loss of match production cannot be pinned on a fungus it certain made the story more interesting.


Blanchfield P 1975. Mr Blanchfield (West Coast) during the Appropriation Bill – Estimates 2 October 1975 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) Third Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament Volume 402, page 5097, 30 Sept – 10 October 1975.

Evening Post 2 May 1958. Cars parked off Tory Street, Wellington, Bryant & May building in the background. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/1402-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22882062

Salter C 2016. Tory St a hub for the city’s industrial past. Stuff – Dominion Post 1 June 2016.

Sheridan JE 1981. Poplar leaf rust and its effect on tree growth and suitability for match splints. Mycology and Plant Pathology Report: 18. Victoria University of Wellington.

Upper Hutt Heritage Collection, Ref. no. 1969 12 23 1.Match factory and offices, Bryant & May, Montgomery Crescent; architect’s drawing.

Upper Hutt Heritage Collection, Ref. no. 1971 03 10 1.  Match factory; Bryant and May, 62-66 Montgomery Crescent.

Upper Hutt Heritage Collection, Ref no. 1988 03 22 09. Additional information from Don McLeod, Recollect volunteer, 2019.

Let’s not forget poplar rust

The story of the arrival of poplar rust is almost forgotten and many of those involved long retired or dead. This blog is based on a PowerPoint presentation that I gave to foresters as part of a biosecurity forest pathology and biosecurity training at the turn of the century (I love that phrase).

Infected shelter belt [photo ?]

My first recollection of poplar rust was as a teenager living in the Manawatu. My step-father bought a bundle of bare-rooted semi-deciduous poplar saplings to plant a hedge down one side of our section. This was mid-1972 and these semi-deciduous poplars where new and all the rage for shelter belts at the time. In mid-1973 our hedge got poplar rust.

History of poplars in New Zealand

Poplars were first brought to New Zealand between 1840 and 1850 and these were mainly Lombardy poplars and cottonwoods. Poplars were planted widely across the landscape as shelter belts and homestead plantings.

Mendip Hills Homestead (owned by Andrew William Rutherford), with croquet lawn laid out in front, and poplar trees left background. Photograph taken by Albert Percy Godber in 1917 [Godber Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library]

Between 1850 and 1968 around 150 species, cultivars and hybrids clones had been introduced into New Zealand. Eighty of these arrived between 1957 and 1968.  Many of these later imports where by the Soil Conservation Service of the Water and Soil Division of the Ministry of Works.

Use of poplar timber

The 1962 survey of exotic forest in New Zealand found about 8000 acres planted in poplars. These were mostly as shelter and riverbank protection and consisted of the European Lombardy and white poplars which are of low quality timber. But, there were also 500 acres of black poplar and its hybrids which that had been grown specifically for their timber.

This is pretty small scale and poplars for timber had not taken off because there was a lack of good alluvial sites in New Zealand’s State Forest, poor understanding of the trees needs and inappropriate silvicultural practices, and the growing dominance of Pinus radiata as the preferred timber production plantation species.

Local use of poplar timber had been for truck decking, furniture, veneers, boxes, battens and gates. We also imported poplar timber from Canada to make matches. By 1968, there was a growing interest in developing its use in veneers and for paper production.

The growing farm Forestry movement saw the increased planting of poplars in conjunction with agriculture and on better soil types. This was actively encouraged by the New Zealand Forest Service through a funding scheme.

Poplar use in soil conservation

By 1968 400,000 poplars were being planted annually, encouraged by the availability of a soil conservation subsidy, and it was expected that this would quickly reach a million trees a year. It was forecast that over the next 30 years that 32 million poplars and willows would be planted and if managed correctly would provide a significant timber resource.

Poplars in the New Zealand rural landscape [photo FRI Bulletin 124]

At this time, 1968, other than a couple of leaf-spots, there were no poplar diseases in New Zealand. However, and there is always a however, Chris van Kraayenoord, who worked for the Ministry of Works and was known as “Mr Poplar”, was voicing his concern that with this rapid increase in planting  and with most planting occurring on “marginal” sites for erosion control there was a very real potential for a disease outbreak. Chris actively discouraged the use of varieties that were known to be susceptible to disease overseas.  And, new cultivars known to be disease resistant were brought in to New Zealand to replace the cultivars of “unknown origin” that we were using.

In our modern world of biosecurity alertness the quarantine requirement were, and had been from 1952, for plants stock entering from Europe, North and South America to be grown for one season in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research’s (DSIR) quarantine facility.

Rust outbreak in Australia

On the 27th of January 1972 American poplar rust disease (caused by Melampsora medusae) was found on cottonwoods (poplars) in the Macdonald River valley 64 km northwest of Sydney. Inspection of the area on the 3rd of February found the disease spread along 16k m of the river valley in cottonwood plantations. Within a few weeks the disease had spread beyond the initial area and by April 1972, it had reached the Queensland and the Victorian borders as well as spreading 400 km inland. This rapid spread was the result of the surface wind and wet cyclonic conditions during this period.

American poplar rust spread in NSW [map Walker, Hartigan, Bertus, 1974]

In the 1972 inspection all poplar species were examined for rust and Lombardy poplars were found to be disease free.  But, in February 1973 rust was found on a Lombardy poplar in Sydney. This was the European poplar rust (Melampsora larici-populina). Like the American poplar rust it spread rapidly so by May 1973 it was found from Sydney to the Victorian border and as far west as Cobram in the Murray River valley.

Poplar rust in New Zealand

Warnings were issued to New Zealand growers in mid 1972 to be on the lookout for poplar rust. on the 21st of March 1973 American  rust was confirmed in Kaikohe, Northland.  Over the next four days nine further sites were discovered in Northland. Initially the Forest Service attempted to stop the spread by spraying and burning 2000 trees.

Spraying poplar rust, Northland [photo FRI]

Burning infected poplar, Northland [photo FRI}

Also the Forest Disease Control Regulations (1967) were invoked that prohibited the movement of polar material out of the Hokianga and Bay of Islands counties. On the 26 of March it was realised that the disease had spread so far that destroying any more trees was pointless. By the 27 of March all catchment authorities throughout New Zealand had been alerted to be on the lookout for the rust.

Spread of poplar rust in the North Island [map van Kraayenoord, 1973

A survey team, made up of Ministry of Works and Forest Service staff, did a disease survey of Northland and reported its findings on the 28th of March. Its recommendations were:

In view of the present widespread distribution of the rust from Kaitaia to Raglan, at least twenty localities, the distribution of the rust has passed the stage at which the rust can be eradicated.

  1. Because of the already widespread distribution of the rust in Auckland conservancy and judging by the rapid spread of other rusts and this one in Australia, it is considered that Melampsora will spread to the rest of New Zealand in the near future. It is felt that little would be served by further invoking the regulations at this time.
  2. It is considered that the propagation of the Italian hybrid poplar I.78 which is the most seriously affected will be phased out. The position regarding the other commonly planted hybrid poplars is not yet clear, but the Yunnenensis, Lombardy and Silver poplars appears to be free of the disease.
  3. Unless the disease behaves very differently in New Zealand than it has done in Australia and America, pine plantations in New Zealand are not at risk at all. Infection of P.radiata has only been achieved under highly artificial experimental conditions in Canada and only on very young seedlings. No infection of P.radiata has been found in the field anywhere in the world.

By the 16 May rust had been found right down the west coast of the North Island. But, around New Plymouth  Lombardy and Robusta poplars had rust and this was not the case in Northland!

The New Plymouth outbreak had been found on the 27th March 1973. A survey on the 29th of March found the disease 16 km from New Plymouth and 50 km a few days later. From 28 March it was official confirmed that this was European poplar rust not American as found in Northland.

By mid May American poplar rust had swept down into the Waikato, across the Bay of Plenty and East Cape to Gisborne. There was one isolated outbreak in the poplar breeding nursery in Palmerston North but that is thought to have originated from disease material sent in for diagnosis. Meanwhile European polar rust swept north into the Waikato, south along the west coast, and east into the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay.

It was uncertain how these two species would react in New Zealand’s mild climate. There were two major concerns. One, that with a large population of semi-evergreen Lombardy poplars that the urediniospores would over winter on the poplars. This was confirmed the first winter (1973) with viable urediniospore being produced all winter by European poplar rust. This allowed inoculum levels to build up continuously. American poplar rust did not fair so well as the Lombardy poplars were partially resistant and deciduous so there could be no over winter build up of inoculum. Also, these rust have alternative hosts, American poplar rust on larch, Douglas fir, and experimentally on radiata, ponderosa and contorta pine, and European poplar rust on larch and it was unknown how these alternate hosts would be affected.

By the spring and summer of 1973-4, European poplar rust had spread right across the North Island. It crossed Cook Straight and appeared in Nelson in December 1973 and reached Invercargil, in the far south, by May 1974. However, American poplar rust did not spread any further and in fact contracted into a few isolated localities and eventually died out.

Disease Cycle

The life cycle of these rusts are complicated involving two different host species and five different spore types! This is in their native range it was not known what would happen in New Zealand where the hosts and the rusts are both exotic introductions.

Infected poplar leaf [photo FRI]

During the summer the infected poplar leaves develop lots of pustules producing large quantities of yellow of urediniospores which give the diseased leaves their golden colouration. One infected leaf can produce between 10 to 20 million spores. These spores are are dry and powdery and spread by the wind for great distances to infect other poplars.

Pustules of urediniospores [photo Forest Pathology in New Zealand 20]

Leaves with heavy infections soon die and can fall from the tree with four weeks of infection. In late summer, before leaf fall, the pustules begin to produce a second type of spore which is black, the teliospores. These are not shed but over winter on the fallen leaves. In the spring they germinate to produce the third spore type, the basidiospores which can infect only the alternate conifer host. On the conifer host the fourth and fifth spore types are produced, the pyniospores are first produced then in early summer aeciospores are produced. The aeciospores can only infect poplars and thus continue the life cycle.

As already pointed out the rapid success of European poplar rust in New Zealand was the presence of semi-deciduous poplars which have some leaves all year. This meant that the pustules that produced the yellow urediniospores could over winter on the infected poplar and be ready to infect new foliage in the spring by passing the need for an alternate conifer host.

In New Zealand the presence of rust on conifers has been rarely seen probably due to poor basidiospore dispersal. Infection of larch species was only seen when when they have been grown along side diseased poplars and then only causes some minor leaf fall.

The effect on poplars has been more significant. Due to the high inoculum levels poplars have been subjected to constant defoliation. This does not kill the tree outright but weakens it making it prone to other disease such as silver leaf (Chondrostereum purpureum) and thus prone to wind breakage and toppling. Also repeated defoliation reduced growth rates significantly.

How Did the Disease Get to New Zealand

It is generally accepted that the disease was wind blown from Australia. Meteorological data showed that wind conditions at 3000 metres were suitable between the 28th of February and the 3rd of March. Spores produced in Australia could have been carried to that height by thermal currents and quickly blown to New Zealand. Under ideal conditions it takes only 8 to 10 days from infection to first spore production so that an arrival date of 3 March would allows two generations/ infection cycles to have developed before it was discovered on the 21 of March.

Flight path across the Tasman Sea [Close, Moar, Tomlinson, Lowe, 1978]

Since the 1970s

American poplar rust failed to establish itself in New Zealand and had died out by 1984.

By 1987 a number of new cultivars and hybrids resistant to both rust species had been produced and released commercially. In some cases resistance was specifically for European poplar rust and not so good for American poplar rust.

American poplar rust was detected in Hamilton in 1990 and was thought to be a fresh introduction from Australia and again, died out.

In March 1991 some of the new rust resistant cultivars in Northland where infected by rusts. This rust appeared to be a hybrid between European and American poplar rusts. It failed to overwinter in New Zealand and died out. Again it is thought to have blown in from Australia although it is not known there.


Close RC, Moar NT, Tomlinson AI, Lowe AD 1978. Aerial dispersal of biological material from Australia to New Zealand. International Journal of Biometereology 22: 1-19.

Spiers AG 1990. Melampsora leaf rusts of poplar. Forest Pathology in New Zealand 20: 1-8. Forest Research Institute, Rotorua.

van Kraayenoord CWS 1973. Poplar leaf rust comes to New Zealand. What’s New in Forest Research 7: 1-4. Forest Research Institute, Rotorua.

Walker J, Hartigan D, Bertus AL 1974. Poplar rusts in Australia with comments on potential conifer rusts. European Journal of Forest Pathology 4: 100-118.


But, who was E.H. Atkinson?

Cortinarius porphyroideus was a fungus we thought we knew well. It was first described as Secotium porphyrium and later becoming Thaxterogaster porphyreus before its most recent transfer to Cortinarius.  But, as usual, as new techniques and more species are discovered older species concepts are being reviewed. This revision includes Cortinarius porphyroideus and it was found that the type material had not weathered its almost century in storage well and it was almost impossible to extract DNA from it. Now, it so happens the type locality, that is the place that the type specimen was collected from, is in Wellington and I was asked if I could try and collect a fresh specimen of Cortinarius porphyroideus.

Cortinarius porphyroideus, at the type location York Bay, Wellington [photo Geoff Ridley]

G.H. Cunningham described Secotium porphyreum, in 1924, based on a collection made by himself and E.H. Atkinson sometime in 1922. I had first encounter E.H. Atkinson’s name on a number of collections when putting together a list of the larger fungi of the Wellington region part of which, the East Harbour Regional Park list, was used in the  in the Department of Conservation’s Native Plants of the Eastbourne Hills report.

Looking from the beech forest across York Bay to Lower Hutt, May 2019 [photo Geoff Ridely]

But who was E.H. Atkinson? And why was he collecting fungi with G.H. Cunningham in the 1920s? After playing “connect he dots” on the internet …

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson, photographed circa 1928 by S P Andrew Ltd. [photo held National Library]

Esmond Hurworth Atkinson (1888-1941) is best remembered today as an early 20th century New Zealand artist. The Auckland and Christchurch Galleries New Zealand artists database said that he was an artist and a botanist of York Bay, Eastbourne, Wellington. A botanist!

Baring Head – Afternoon, Wellington [watercolour EH Atkinson]

That he was born in Wellington and that he was grandson to Sir Harry Atkinson. As an aside Sir Harry served as the 10th Premier of New Zealand on four separate occasions. Back to Esmond, his parents where  E. Tudor Atkinson and Ann (née Richmond). So his maternal grandfather was the pioneering New Zealand water-colourist James Crowe Richmond (1822-1898), and his aunt who greatly influenced him was the artist Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935).

York Bay 1927 [watercolour Dorothy Kate Richmond]

This is from his grandson:

When Es was seven years old, the family moved to ‘Rangiuru by the Sea’ near Otaki, where the children spent the next five years ‘messing about in boats’, and Es furthered his interest in painting and the natural world. His schooling included a spell at Wanganui Collegiate School, later returning to Wellington College.

On leaving school, he joined the Department of Agriculture, Biological Section, and studied towards a BSc degree. In 1916, he worked his passage to England to enlist in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On the way he enjoyed short botanising trips ashore at Albany in Western Australia.

In England, he married Alison Burnett, a long-time family friend, and viewed the works of his artistic heroes, Frank Brangwyn and especially JMW Turner, while in officer training.

As a Lieutenant, he served as a signals officer, first in a seaplane carrier, Riviera, on a Mediterranean voyage, and then on the light cruiser Constance, from the deck of which he witnessed, and later painted, the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in the Firth of Forth.

Lieutenant E.H. Atkinson [photo The Lampstand 2015]

Returning to New Zealand in 1919, he transferred from the Biological Section to the Dominion Museum as official artist, but afflicted by epilepsy, he was retired in 1932.

Metrosideros scandens in New Zealand Plants and their Story 1919 [illustration Esmond Atkinson]

He continued to roam back country New Zealand, often with his wife and two sons, and paint many landscapes, until his death in 1941 from an accident resulting from his illness.

Sunrise, Wellington Heads 1927 [watercolour EH Atkinson]

So, as a botanical artist working in Wellington, the centre of biological sciences at that time, for the Department of Agriculture and the Dominion Museum he was mixing with the founding fathers of mycology, G.H. Cunningham, and botany, Leonard Cockayne.


ANZAC Stories: WWI in Watercolours and Ink. The Lampstand: The Annual Magazine for Old Boys and Friends of Wellington College 25 (November 2015): 20

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth. Find New Zealand Artists: a database of artist names. This website is a collaborative project between the libraries at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth, 1888-1941. The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa

Cockayne, L. 1919. New Zealand Plants and their Story. 2nd ed. Government Printer, Wellington. Biodiversity Heritage Library

Esmond Atkinson (1888-1941) New Zealand. Australian Art Auction Records

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013441-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22557798

Sunrise, Wellington Heads. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Three Generations: J.C. Richmond, D.K. Richmond, E.K. Atkinson. Cristchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

290, Dorothy Kate Richmond, York Bay, Wellinton. 291, Esmond Atkinson, Baring Head – Afternoon, WellingtonFine and Applied Arts 14 and 15 November 2018. Dunbar Sloane catalogue page 77



It crawls… It creeps…

What are known as the “plasmodial slime moulds” are amazing. They germinate from a spore as a single cell amoeboid  cell that is grazes freely on bacteria and detritus in the free water between soil particles and in decomposing wood. When two compatible amoeboids meet they fuse and form a multi-cellular plasmodium which can reaches a size that is visible to the human eye. The plasmodium continue to flow through the soil and decaying wood engulfing bacteria and other microorganisms. This was the basis of horror movies like The Blob. Have a look at the Deep Look YouTube clip for time lapse photography of plamodial movement- you may enjoy it more with the sound off 🙂.


When conditions are right, and the plasmodium is well fed it will go through a metamorphoses  and be transformed into a fungal like fruit body. It was for this reason slime moulds have been studied by mycologists and appear in mycological textbooks. The following photos of Stemonitis fusca, were taken by Barbara Appleton and identified by David Appleton in their garden in Palmerston North. This slime mould was living in a tree stump of Atlantic cedar (Cedrus atlantica) which had been left to rot. These photos show the metamorphoses of the plasmodium as it coalesces into a round flattened blob which quickly becomes nobbly.

Stemonitis fusca, nobly blob [photo Barbara Appleton]

The first differentiation occurs on the lower side in contact with the wood where  a hard dark layer forms and will act as the base of the fruit body. Then over this dark layer spikes begin to grow and as they elongate into dark stalks with the still fluid part of the upper blob coalesces around each stalk like a sausage on a stick.

Protoplasm differentiation [from Ross 1973]

Stemonitis fusca, immature [photo Barbara Appleton]

When it’s reached its full height the sausage part of the protoplasm differentiates into a thin out skin, a network or scaffolding of elongated tubules that connect to the stalk, and all the rest of the remain protoplasm differentiates into round spores held within the network of tubules. By this stage the fruit body has gone from yellow to pink to dark brown to black.

Stemonitis fusca, see stalk running up through the plasmodium [photo Barbara Appleton]

Stemonitis fusca, immature [photo Barbara Appleton]

By the time the spores are mature the entire fruit body has dried out and the outer sausage skin is disintegrating leaving the stalk with its open scaffolding of tubules containing the spores which are now free to drop out and be blown about in the wind. Those spores that land in suitable habitats will germinate to release a new amoeboid cell.

Stemonitis fusca, mature [photo Barbara Appleton]

If you are wanting to read more broadly about slime moulds a good article is: Penny Cullington’s “Slime moulds for beginners” (Field Mycologist 10(3): 77-85, 2009).

If you are wanting to identify New Zealand slime mould you need Steve Stephenson’s “Myxomycetes of New Zealand” (Volume 3 of The Fungi of New Zealand / Nga Harore o Aotearoa).

Stemonitis fusca, immature [photo Barbara Appleton]

Stemonitis fusca, maturing [photo Barbara Appleton]

Science Sunday at the Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden ran a Science Sunday today in the Begonia House. It was an opportunity for Wellingtonians to discover the science behind their Garden and what contributions it makes to biodiversity and other areas of science. It also included releasing the findings of the BioBlitze held in April. And despite the rain I did a wander round to see what, if anything, was fruiting.

The Pinetum

I couldn’t believe my luck as I dropped down the slope from the Herb Garden into the Pinetum. Since 2014 I have been returning here in the hope of finding a Boletus that I found but had not kept a specimen of it. And here it was a single huge fruitbody.

Boletus edulis [photo Geoff Ridley]

Boletus edulis [photo Geoff Ridley]

Boletus edulis [photo Geoff Ridley]

It was growing about 1.5m from the base of a maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) in a grove of this species although, there is a single Pinus radiata as well. This is in all probability edible bolete (Boletus edulis) and has you can see from the dollar coin this fruitbody is the size of a dinner plate.

Boletus edulis – the size of a dinner plate [photo Geoff Ridley]

A few metres further along the path there is a grove of mixed cypresses. At the border between the pines and the cypresses was a sticky bun bolete (Suillus granulatus). Note is yellow, non-bluing flesh and a lack of a ring on the stem.

Suillus granulatus [photo Geoff Ridley]

Suillus granulatus [photo Geoff Ridley]

Suillus granulatus [photo Geoff Ridley]

Suillus granulatus – non-bluing flesh [photo Geoff Ridley]

About a metre away was the yellow flycap (Amanita junquillea). I found this species for the first time in the Garden at the BioBlitz in April.

Amanita junquillea [photo Geoff Ridley]

Amanita junquillea [photo Geoff Ridley]

The West Entrance

Near the West Entrance on Glenmore St is a Sequoia, or is it a Metasequoia (tree number 0645) [see additional note at end of this blog].

Tree 0645 (photo Geoff Ridley]

This tree has wood chip mulch under and as I approached I could see the bright colouring of the scarlet pouch (Leratiomyces erythrocephalus). This has fruited frequently under this tree over the last five years.

Leratiomyces erythrocephalus [photo Geoff Ridley]

Also present was the bluing pouch (Psilocybe weraroa). This is the first time I have collected this species from wood chip mulch.

Psilocybe weraroa [photo Geoff Ridley]

The tree is bare of leaves at the moment and looking up there is a long dead strip running almost two thirds the height of the tree. This has been colonised by the woodear jelly (Auricularia cornea).

Auricularia cornea [photo Geoff Ridley]

Auricularia cornea [photo Geoff Ridley]

Additional note 02.10.2019: This is Metasequoia glyptostroboides or dawn redwood. This specimen tree is recorded in the New Zealand Tree Register. It includes the note that:

A rare tree of this age and species in the Wellington area. This may be the single surviving tree propagated from seed by C. M. Smith (former Director of the Botany Division – DSIR). … ‘Through the good offices of Col. J. K. Howard, … a few small seed samples were sent to New Zealand by Dr. E. D. Merrill, lately of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. From these seed samples, I secured about a tablespoon of partly cleaned seed for trial sowings. … Smith also send seed to A. W. Wastney in Nelson. Both men germinated their seeds in October 1949. Smith was successful in cultivating only one seedling and Wastney was fortunate enough to obtain three seedlings from his efforts. … No record has been found to establish where Smith planted his tree but he did have an association with the Wellington Botanical Gardens and it is assumed he may have planted it here. The tree would have been of sufficient size to have been planted out in the spring of 1951.

The Register also records the tree’s health as:

In very good health 2009. The increasing numbers of native kaka in the Wellington area are stripping bark from this and other significant trees in the gardens (2010).

The long dead strip in the main stem might be associated with kaka damage?