In Search of Cox’s Matipo

Unique to the Chathams, Cox’s matipo (Myrsine coxii) is a tough little plant well designed to withstand the weather with small leathery leaves and usually keeping under 2m tall. Surprisingly it flowers in winter, but not that you’d notice. You might however see the odd purple berry. It doesn’t appear to waste a lot of energy on flowering and fruiting though, preferring to spread by layering itself. You’ll find it in boggy margins on the edge of forest, or in boggy light gaps within forest in protected areas.

Myrsine coxii

Myrsine coxii. Image: Peter de Lange

It was named after Felix Arthur Douglas Cox, an enthusiastic naturalist who lived on the Chatham Islands around 1900. He’d come from the Indian Mutiny in 1865 and settled at Waikarapi, eventually going into partnership with Alexander Shand in Whangamarino Station. (National Library of NZ)

Without a true estimate of numbers and the observed lack of sexual reproduction it has been classed as a threatened plant with a Declining status. However, a recent thorough survey by four dedicated DOC staff has resulted in numbers that could change this ranking to an improved status.

Surveys were carried out in the Thomas Mohi (Rangaika) Scenic Reserve and Tuku Nature Reserve during late February 2012. The two teams walked a total of 43 lines, 100m apart, totalling 73km. As it is difficult to tell where a plant begins and ends die to its suckering behaviour, counts were made of individual stems as an indicator of numbers.

A grand total of 55,000 stems were recorded with 51,000 stems in the Tuku alone representing a slice of what could be a much larger population in both areas. This is great news for this plant which appears now to be reasserting itself in these reserves.

Both of these reserves are fenced showing how the simple act of removing stock from forest remnants by well maintained fences is critical to the survival of the plants that are so special to the Chatham Islands.

We’d like to acknowledge the hard work put into this survey by Sandra Burles, Alison Botha, Alan Lee and Tony Silbury.

Associate Professor (Botany, Ecology, Plant Conservation, Biosystematics) at Unitec in Auckland and a former Department of Conservation scientist. Peter has been visiting the Chatham Islands since 1996 and is a current member of the Chatham Islands Conservation Board.