Although the days are much shorter and the colours of autumn are beginning to appear, we are still enjoying warmth and sunshine. The mostly evergreen New Zealand plants can look subdued when the sky is grey, but sunny days highlight the textures and brighten the different greens. However, even in the shade of the bush there is fresh green to be seen. Unfurling new fronds of wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa) glow against the deeper green of the mature fronds and the bristly brown hairs of the frond stalks.
Wheki is also known as the rough tree fern. Presumably this is because the texture of the fronds is quite harsh to the touch, but the plant itself can also look a bit "rough" too - old and dead brown fronds hold on to the trunk, giving a raggedy look - not the thick skirt of dead fronds typically seen on the related wheki ponga (Dicksonia fibrosa). Wheki is a medium sized tree fern found throughout New Zealand, often near streams and in damp places. It is also quite resilient - bare trunks are used for fencing, and they can quite delightfully come back to life, sprouting from buds on the trunk.
The trunks are slender and up to 7 metres tall. The fronds of wheki, 1.5 to 3 metres long, are smaller than those of other tree ferns and they grow in almost horizontal array. Wheki can cope with some sun and wind, but it shows - they tend to look more weathered and scruffy.
This one, in the fern glade at the Otari Native Botanic Garden here in Wellington, is in an ideal situation - a sheltered shady area that is not too dry. Here the filtered light highlights the textures and shapes of the fronds, which seem to sparkle against the darkness of the shade cast by the big trees above them.