Tag Archives: Tecomanthe montana

When survival of a species rests on a single plant

Our native Tecomanthe speciosa is quite the clmbing vine over time

Plant collectors and the nursery trade don’t always have the proudest record when it comes to preserving desirable plant species in the wild. It was the habit of stripping material for commercial gain that saw flora as well as fauna being protected by CITES*.  But there are exceptions and our native climber, Tecomanthe speciosa, is one example.

It was down to just the one, single, solitary specimen ever found and I think it is still down to just the one plant in the wild. Arguably it is the nursery trade and the popularising of it as a garden plant that saved it from extinction.

The same situation applies to Pennantia baylisiana, found at the same time on the same island. We have that growing in our garden too. One of the species of our native kakabeak, Clianthus puniceus, has never been reduced to just one plant but it is critically endangered with just one small location in the wild on Moturemu Island in the Kaipara Harbour. Circulating these plants in the garden trade doesn’t alter the situation of them being endangered in the wild due to loss of habitat, but it does stop them being wiped out entirely.

Tecomanthe speciosa setting flowers down its woody stems in very late autumn. The foliage in the photo is unrelated.

The  tecomanthe was found on Manawatāwhi (formerly referred to as the Great Island in the Three Kings group to the north west off the top tip of New Zealand. It was found in 1946 and it is thought that the introduction of goats to the island had led to the extinction of all but the remaining plant. I understand the goats were introduced to provide food for shipwrecked sailors. With the eradication of goats, vegetation on that island has regenerated to the point where that last plant has become heavily shaded and  it has hardly flowered since that year of discovery.

The tecomanthe is climbing vine, subtropical and therefore frost tender but well adapted to coastal conditions. Its foliage is relatively large, lush and shiny and I can’t get a photo because it is all right up on top, maybe 10 metres above. Fortunately, it doesn’t only flower right at the top but can put clusters of blooms out on its bare lower lengths of vine.  

I didn’t know until I looked it up that T. speciosa is best grown from fresh seed and can flower within a couple of years whereas it takes much longer for a cutting-grown plant to start flowering. I am guessing most plants sold in the trade are cutting grown.

The potential is there for this vine to become a gnarly old plant – as ours has – with very thick trunks which may smother and even fell the host tree it clambers up for support but that will take many decades. I have seen tecomanthes trained along front verandahs but they do need training and pruning. Left to their own devices, they may rip the guttering off the house if you turn your back on them but at least you can get most of the flowering at eye-level with a bit of effort. It is probably safer to train a plant along a fence or a wall but whatever location is chosen, it needs a strong support.

Our Tecomanthe venusta needs to be grown under cover but it also flowers on bare wood, although in summer, not autumn. It doesn’t always flower quite as prolifically as this but it is showy.

We grow two other tecomanthe species but both are more tender than T. speciosa because they come from New Guinea. Tecomanthe venusta (syn dendrophylla) needs to be under the cover of a verandah this far south but can be grown outdoors in Northland. The dainty one we have as T. montana (which may or may not be the correct botanical name) is arguably the prettiest of the three. We did have T. hillii which is native to Queensland but it succumbed to neglect.

I think Tecomanthe montana is the prettiest flower. It blooms in spring.

None of the tecomanthe species are common in New Zealand but only one of them is extra special for the patriotic gardener. Fancy being a direct descendant of the one sole, surviving plant. They don’t come more endangered than that.

*CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Fallen blooms on Tecomanthe speciosa

Sole survivor – Tecomanthe speciosa

Tecomanthe speciosa - a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Tecomanthe speciosa – a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Plants cannot come more endangered than our native Tecomanthe speciosa. Only one has ever been found in the wild and that was back in 1945-6 on Manawa Tawhi, the biggest island of the Three Kings group off the northern coast of New Zealand. Blame the goats which were introduced to our offshore islands, as I understand it, to provide food for shipwrecked sailors back in the days when this was a more common event.

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

Fortunately T. speciosa is not difficult to propagate and it is its use as a garden plant in frost-free areas of the country that has ensured its survival. I usually miss the autumn flowering on our vines because most of it occurs about 10 metres up in the sky where it has clambered its way up to the light on one of our road boundaries. I only noticed it this season because I happened across the flower carpet below and looked more closely. I must admit that I did not realise it put out clusters of blooms on bare wood in its lower reaches too.

Tecomanthe  venusta

Tecomanthe venusta

There aren’t many tecomanthe species, all of which are members of the bignoniaceae family and evergreen. There seems some agreement on the number five, maybe six. There is our T. speciosa, one maybe two from Queensland in Australia (T. hillii is the most recognised) and three from New Guinea. We have two New Guinea forms here. The first is what we call T. venusta (syn dendrophylla).

It is distinctly tropical but shows the same characteristics as T. speciosa when it comes to putting up strong tendrils and flowering in clusters from bare wood.

Tecomanthe montana

Tecomanthe montana

We had T. hillii which was sold commercially in NZ some years ago but it didn’t look like too much of a gem here so we didn’t take care of it and no longer have it. The real gem for us is not even on the usual lists of species but we have it under the name T. montana from New Guinea. It flowers in mid spring and is much finer leafed, finer growing and more floriferous than its larger two cousins we also grow.

Our native speciosa appears to be the giant in the family. The vines on our well established plant are as thick as human limbs. It also has much larger, glossy leaves. The best plants I have seen have been trained and kept pruned along the verandah fronts of houses. You need a very strong structure to hold them and to be consistent on pruning but it does at least get them flowering well at a level where it is visible.

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

On the same botanical survey of the Three Kings that the sole tecomanthe plant was found, another sole remaining specimen of a tree species was found – Pennantia balyisiana.

Plant Collector: Tecomanthe montana

Pink and cream hanging bells of Tecomanthe montana

Pink and cream hanging bells of Tecomanthe montana

Most visitors tend to think that the dainty pink and cream trumpets mean this climber is a lapageria (Chilean bell flower) but far from it. Tecomanthe montana is a tender climber from New Guinea. We tried it in the garden and it survived a couple of years before it succumbed to winter. This plant is grown under complete cover though it has its roots in the ground. It is by far the showiest tecomanthe when in flower.

Apparently there are only five species of tecomanthe. Our own native form, T. speciosa, was found as a single plant on the Three Kings Island and has been saved by commercial production. It has much bigger leaves and is a very strong grower. Unless you train it along a horizontal frame, it tends to shoot up the tallest tree where it will produce its pale lemon trumpets right on top where you can’t see them. We also grow T. venusta under complete cover but it is even more tropical than T. montana and only occasionally flowers for us. When it does, its pink trumpets appear out of the gnarly bare wood of the climbing stems. We gave up on the Queensland species, T. hillii because it mildewed badly with us. All of the tecomanthes are forest climbers from the tropics or sub tropics. Montana came to us from former Pukeiti director, Graham Smith, who gathered the seed in New Guinea. It is not the easiest plant to get established but if you can find the right conditions, it is a winner in spring.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 12 November, 2010

The very pretty Tecomanthe montana

The very pretty Tecomanthe montana

Latest Posts:

1) Jovellana punctata has been particularly charming in flower in recent weeks.

2) In The Garden This Week – recommended tasks for home gardeners this week as the weather warms up in late spring.

3) Hosta combinations that work – our latest Outdoor Classroom.

Tikorangi NotesThe end of our annual garden festival saw us wandering around like zombies on Monday – talked out and exhausted. It is amazing how 10 days of standing on concrete all day and meeting and greeting can take its toll. The festival is so important to us, delivering up half our annual total of visitors in a quick burst. The weather smiled on us again this year –sun every day and mild temperatures. This is not to be sneezed at in a situation where we start to feel personally responsible for the weather as we host out of town and overseas visitors. The offshore visitors were noticeably dominated by Australians this year.

The Tecomanthe montana which we grow in our meet and greet area was perhaps a little later with its blooming but it had sufficient blooms open to attract attention from visitors, many of whom look at just the flowers and assume it is a lapageria. No, it is a climber from New Guinea and rather tender. The plant we used to have in the garden succumbed to winter cold years ago but this one is under cover and performs consistently every year. The same can not be said of Tecomanthe venusta, which is even more tender. It flowers just often enough to justify our keeping it, but never rivals montana in flower power.