Dactylanthus taylorii (Wood Rose)
(unranked): Core eudicots
Species: D. taylorii
Binomial name: Dactylanthus taylorii
Common name: Wood rose, Maori names for wood rose are pua o te reinga or pua reinga, "flower of the underworld" and waewae atua, "feet of gods".
Dactylanthus taylorii is New Zealand’s only fully parasitic plant. It grows on the roots of about 30 species of trees in New Zealand. In Egmont National Park the tree hosts are partly a reflection of what is available within the vegetation zone in which the Dactylanthus occur and include toro (Myrsine salicina), broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), mountain horopito (Pseudowintera colorata), kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) and others.
It is the only species in the Dactylanthus genus and occurs only in New Zealand.
It is a root parasite with no green leaves growing completely or partially under the ground. It is completely dependent on its host plant for food and water.
The host tree responds to the presence of Dactylanthus by forming a burl-like structure that resembles a fluted wooden rose (hence the common name).
Plants are either male or female. They flower between January and April.
Fruits about 2 mm long are produced from February to May. The plant has no green leaves, and roots are also absent, the plant being connected to the host by its stem.
The short tailed bat is an excellent pollinator of Dactylanthus taylorii. They are attracted by the sweet smelling nectar of the flowers.
Some plants have been aged in excess of 30 years old. It prefers damp but not waterlogged soil, and is often found at the head of small streams. It tends to live under the dense canopies of tall trees but some specimens may be found at forest borders.
The plant is cryptic, and hence hard to survey, but there are unlikely to be more than a few thousand in existence. Most of these are in the North Island. It is likely that many sites are known only to collectors, as the woody growth has commercial value.
The wood rose is under threat from harvesting by collectors, browsing by possums, rats, pigs and deer, habitat loss, and the rarity of its pollinators and seed dispersers.
Dactylanthus is regarded, as of 2004, as a 'Category A' threatened species. The New Zealand Department of Conservation started a recovery plan in 1995. Protection measures include pest control and enclosure of the plants in cages.
It is currently only known in the North Island in and area approximately bounded by Hamilton, East Cape, Napier, Mangaweka and Taranaki. It is also present on Great Barrier Island.
Listen to an interesting National Radio program on dactyloanthus.
Watch a video of a series of time lapse images, taken by photographer and conservationist David Mudge, shows New Zealand's only fully parasitic flowering plant. Copyright: Nga Manu Images.
Photo of the actual parasitic plant attached to the root of a host tree.