Plant collector: the curious native Muehlenbeckia astonii

An unusual clipped specimen, M. astonii

An unusual clipped specimen, M. astonii

The proper name of this plant is not easy to spell – Muehlenbeckia astonii – but I have never even heard it referred to by its alleged common names of ‘shrubby tororaro’ or ‘wiggy-wig bush’. Not that common, apparently. The plantings in a prominent position at Auckland Botanic Gardens have caught my eye before. I am guessing they are planning to extend the clipping up another layer. In this interim phase. Mark chuckled and suggested they resemble Kim Jong-Un. The hair, dear Reader, the hair.

This is another of our native plants now threatened by loss of habitat. These days it is limited to the eastern coastal lowlands, stretching from Wairarapa to Banks Peninsula but it may have been more widespread in the days before extensive land development. Fortunately, it makes a good garden specimen and it is the ability to integrate into gardens that has saved critically endangered plants like Tecomanthe speciosa, Pennantia baylisiana and the kakabeak (clianthus).

Divaricating plants are not unusual in this country – divaricating being that tight criss crossing of the branches, often combined with tiny leaves. The ever-handy internet advances two botanical theories for the prevalence of divaricating plants here. I like the first theory which is that plants evolved this way to protect themselves from moa grazing on them. The second theory is that the plants have adapted to withstand harsh climatic conditions, particularly wind and dryness found in exposed coastal conditions and maybe hard frosts.
Muehlenbeckia astonii (7)
M. astonii will be deciduous in hard conditions but retains some of its tiny leaves in Auckland. The orange and red tones in the wiry zigzag branches add interest. It clips well and is apparently not difficult to strike from cutting or raise from fresh seed. We don’t have M. astonii in our garden but we do grow a comparable tiny-leafed divaricating coprosma which has a natural form of mounding layers that is often described as cloud form.

Muehlenbeckia astonii, featuring prominently at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Muehlenbeckia astonii, featuring prominently at Auckland Botanic Gardens

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One thought on “Plant collector: the curious native Muehlenbeckia astonii

  1. Pat Webster

    Love the planting scheme in the first photo, Abbie. I hope it won’t be too many years before you can post a photo of the shrubs with a second layer. In the meantime, I’ll think North Korea and enjoy a chuckle.

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