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Mountain Flowers

Mists near Mt Cook, Aoraki, New Zealand's highest peak is in the Southern Alps
Mt Cook, Aoraki, New Zealand's highest peak is in the Southern Alps

In early summer the herb fields in New Zealand's alpine regions are filled with flowers. Although vulnerable to browsing by stock and rabbits, not to mention passing feet and careless picking of flowers, some spectacular massing of perennial flowers can be found. The Mount Cook Lily, Ranunculus lyalli, is one of the most famous of these. Celmisias, gentians, ourisias and geums are just some of the varied and fascinating flora of our mountainous terrain.

Gravelly soils drain quickly while mists and regular rainfall across New Zealand's Main Divide keeps moisture levels high. Tricky, difficult and sometimes downright frustrating, our alpine flora demands the sharp drainage, sun and constant moisture of the high mountains. If you can satisfy these requirements these are fascinating plants to grow and, increasingly, these treasures can be obtained from mainstream and specialist nurseries.

Never collect these precious, endangered plants from the wild.


Alpine herbfields filled with flowers

Alpine herbfields filled with flowers

Anisotome haastii

Anisotome haastii

Ferny, deep green leaves surround several flower spikes in summer, each carrying a conspicuous umbel of white tiny flowers. Found in damp mountain areas in the South Island where its deep roots seek out moisture in alpine soils and screes, it needs similar conditions in the garden.
Cultivation Needs a moist site and rich, free-draining soil.
Propagation Seed (both male and female plants needed to set seed)


Gentiana bellidiflora

Gentiana bellidiflora

A high country dweller, found in grasslands,with branching stems that carry green-to-reddish eaves. The white flowers appear over a longish season. While relatively common it is difficult in cultivation, a plant for the specialist.
Cultivation Deep, continually moist but not sodden, peaty soils with plenty of grit.
Propagation Seed


Gentiana montana

Gentiana montana

From high rainfall regions along the Main Divide of the South Island, G. montana has leathery leaves and carries its summer flower heads on a tall stem of between 10-40cm (4-12in). A plant for the specialist.
Cultivation Moist, free draining and rich soils essential.
Propagation Seed


Geum uniflorum

Geum uniflorum

A widespread plant of moist streamsides and banks from South Island alpine areas. Loose clusters of white flowers are held on stems of around 15cm (6in) above a rosette of deep green leaves.
Cultivation Deep moist soils, in full or partial shade. Heavy or constant winter rain can cause rotting, a open-ended cloche is advisable.
Propagation Seed


Ranunculus lyallii

Ranunculus lyallii
Mount Cook lily

The famous Mount Cook Lily or Buttercup is one of the most spectacular of the South Island's alpine flowers. Protected hillsides smothered with these pure white, luscious blooms are the stuff of dreams. Clusters of pure white flowers with conspicuous yellow stamens are carried on a thick fleshy stems 50cm-1.0m (2ft-3ft) tall. The leaves are large, light green and soft, disappearing in winter. Difficult to grow, these are plants demand cool conditions, constant moisture levels and sun. Clearly for the specialist or those lucky enough to stike the right conditions to keep R. lyallii happy.
Cultivation Cool, deep soils that are constantly moist. Protect from wind and heat, partial shade is best at lower altitudes.
Propagation Seed


Ranunculus lyallii

R. lyallii in herbfield habitat


Ranunculus buchanannii

Ranunculus buchanannii

Found tucked into the rocks and screes high on the alpine slopes, R. buchanannii is not often found. It is a treasure, with deeply lobed grey-green leaves contrasting strongly with the large pure white flowers.
Cultivation Difficult away from it habitat at high elevation in the mountains, with constant moisture and gritty soils. Best grown in a container - if you can find it!
Propagation Seed


Celmisia corricea

Celmisia corricea, Mountain daisy

One of the showiest of the species, C. corricea is found in the high herb fields of the South Island. A tufted herb, with white daisy flowers appearing in early summer, it is deep rooted and demands moisture and a cool root run.
Cultivation A moist free draining soil, with sun in cooler areas and part shade in warmer climates. Mulch with fine gravel or grit and give a cool root-run
Propagation Division, Seed


Celmisia sessiflora

Celmisia sessiflora

A mat-forming celmisia, with silvery rosettes spread slowly. The white flowers are held above the leaves and appear in early summer. Somewhat easier to grow in the garden than most of the species, it can be successful in gravel gardens and containers.
Cultivation A moist free draining soil, with sun in cooler areas and part shade in warmer climates. Mulch with fine gravel or grit and give a cool root-run
Propagation Division, Seed


Leucogenes leontopodium

Leucogenes leontopodium, North Island Edelweiss

A low, loosely spreading plant with heavy tomentose on silver leaves forming rosettes,. The tiny flowers are yellow, encircled by white bracts as shown here, in early summer. There is also a South Island form, L. grandiceps
Cultivation gritty moist soils that drain freely and cool root run.
Propagation Division, Cuttings and Seed


Take Only Photographs...
Many of our native plants are under threat in the wild as their habitats suffer from grazing by pests, such as rabbits and opossums, and farm animals. Other habitats are reduced by people, by rural/urban sprawl and the spread of holiday baches.

To safeguard our plants buy native plants from reputable nurseries. Do Not collect from the wild. Always have a permit or permission to take seed.

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Last revised 06 Mar '03