Friday, March 16, 2012

Earthquakes, Native Plants, and Funky Mary’s Cottage

January 28th to February 1st
Note: This blog is from just before Scott arrived.

Staying in Christchurch, we felt several small (magnitude 4) earthquakes. And the news is dominated by the rebuilding efforts and the frustrations of many of the citizens in dealing with the stressful situation and bureaucratic hassles in trying to get compensation, find a place to live, etc. For those of you that are interested in seeing a map and even watching a timelapse movie of earthquakes on the map, you can go to this site:

A running count of the Canterbury region earthquakes and their magnitudes is at:

On Saturday, January 28th, Matt and Margaret took us on an earthquake and native plant tour of Christchurch. We first drove out to the south and east of Christchurch to where there were visible signs left from the September 2010 earthquake. We started out on a straight road, and it was really obvious when the road got pushed to the side by earthquake forces.

December 2010 Earthquake realigned a once straight road!
We went to the next road over and here the road had been lifted up as well as shoved to the side.

Note the realigned fence! The bump in the road ins't obvious though.
Matt also took us on a short tour of the Landcare Institute where he works. Matt is a palynologist (pollen specialist), but also knows his plants on a macro level. He taught us some of the plants in the Institute’s native garden. There are almost 300 endemic species of trees in New Zealand, so I can only hope to learn the most common. When the Maori arrived, probably less than one thousand years ago, they burned much of the native forest. The white settlers have deforested more for timber and to create pasture, so less than 15% of NZ is now covered with the native flora. The common names tend to be Maori, but if we used the English names it would be even more confusing because the white pine here is not even in the same family as the North American white pine.  So, instead, I will say rimu, tawa, matai and rata, and you can just be as confused as I am!

Darrell in front of some native biodiversity at the Landcare Institute where Matt works
One of the most interesting adaptations of the trees and shrubs here is that the juvenile form is much, much different than the adult form. For example, lancewood (horoeka) is a small tree with sword-like foliage that changes dramatically as the tree matures. The juveniles are so different from the adults that early botanists believed they were different species. Young trees grow straight and thin with no branches, having only a cluster of long, lance-like leaves at the top. The adult leaves are less than half the length and twice the width of the juvenile's leaves and create a crown at the top of the tree.

Juvenile Lancewood at the Landcare Institute
Mature Lancewood at the Landcare Institute
The best explanation scientists have for this dimorphism is that the juveniles needed to defend themselves against moa appetites. There are no moa left, so maybe if we wait a million years or so, we can see if this theory holds water!

Another example of lower juvenile leaves being morphologically distinct from adult leaves above.

We then walked around a remnant patch of native forest purposefully left by a settler family in Christchurch called Riccarton Bush. It is hard to imagine the entire Canterbury plains (a vast agricultural area now) being covered in this dense forest!

Matt looking at a crazy root in the Riccarton Bush, a preserved area in Christchurch

Margaret in Riccarton Bush
Our tour day ended sitting at the picnic table in Matt and Margaret’s yard sharing a beer and talking more about New Zealand evolution and ecology, two of my favorite topics!

The next day we moved to the coast at New Brighton where we stayed five days at Funky Mary’s Cottage.  Mary and Dennis were great hosts and the cottage really was fun and funky. Darrell got a lot of writing done, and I walked along the beach and started to clean the fossil shells Darrell had collected at Wanganui on the North Island.

Cleaning shells in the sun at Funky Mary's Cottage
Dennis also shared some of the pictures he took from the earthquake liquefaction in this neighborhood, so I am circling back to the ever-present theme of earthquakes in Christchurch with these images.

Dennis's photo from near where we are staying: A car meets liquefaction.
Dennis's photo of a bustop in New Brighton
Thank goodness this isn't our van!

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