We all know that growing our own native plants is a good idea as it helps to raise awareness of our beautiful flora. In New Zealand this is tricky as the range of climatic conditions across the country is so vast, variable and dynamic that many plants are suited only to the very specific region in which they grow.
Pachystegia thrive in a very specific niche in Marlborough and north-east of the South Island. Naturally they grow on rocky outcrops and cliff faces, being visible along the Kaikoura Coast. Surprisingly, for a plant from such an extreme environment, it will actually do very well in garden situations. We do not have to build cliff faces or have fans going on them to simulate sea breezes, just a good free-draining compost or soil in an open spot.
As it is a species that defies gravity, holding on to cliff faces, they will often search out soil making a few larger roots to anchor it down and search out water and nutrients. This makes it fairly unsuitable or difficult to grow in a pot long-term and it’s best to find a nice open area in the garden. Pachystegia are not used to shade or excessive moisture at the roots, so in a garden situation, plant in open areas with good airflow around, as high humidity and moisture will result in certain death. This makes them sound difficult to grow, but, in fact, with a little modification to the soil to increase drainage and the right position in the garden they are a very tough and resilient plant that will reward you for years.
The leaves are also designed for the rugged conditions, but this adds to their beauty. The leaves are leathery in their feel with a green upper surface and either silver or gold hairs on the underside. These are extremely beautiful when the leaves turn over and are adaptations to help preserve moisture loss. This is to our benefit in the garden, as once they are established in a position we do not need to worry about watering them and they will look after themselves.
The so-called ‘icing on the cake’ is almost exactly that. In late spring, masses of white daisies are held above the foliage as if the plant had been iced or frosted. From intricate buds held on long stalks, very beautiful, single daisy flowers emerge that often look too perfect, almost artificial.
Seed is the preferred method of propagation and it is a surprisingly easy process. Collect fresh seed in late summer when it looks fluffy, just like a closed-up dandelion clock. Each flower contains enough seed to produce dozens of plants, so you do not need many.
Sow fresh seed immediately in a very freedraining seed mix and very lightly cover with fine gravel, vermiculite or perlite. Place the pot outside and keep your eye open for seedlings emerging.
The biggest killer of young plants is too much love in the form of watering. This is not to say you should not water them, but young seedlings are very prone to damping off.
When large enough to transplant be careful as they dislike root disturbance and remember to continue to use a good free-draining compost. Plants might take two years before they are large enough to plant out in the garden, but the sooner the better so that they can get established in their final location.
The most widely available species and the one normally referred to as the Marlborough Rock Daisy. It has the widest natural distribution from Marlborough right down to North Canterbury and inland towards Molesworth station. The flowers are white with a yellow centre held high above the foliage, which has a white, felt-like underside. The plants form in the surrounding rocks.
By far the smallest of the genus, reaching only around 30cm tall, but still exhibiting the beautiful white daisy flowers. A great choice for alpine gardens.
Resembles P. insignis, forming a similar shape and size of plant. The leaves are often distinctly bronze-felted underneath, accompanied by reddish flower stalks. It has a much smaller distribution than the other species only being found in four little gullies in the Haldon Hills in Marlborough.