Xeronema callistemon - from volcanic islands to a Wellington traffic island

Xeronema callistemon - Raupo Taranga or the Poor Knights Lily - is a dramatic plant endemic to a group of small islands off the east coast of Northland - the Poor Knights islands and Taranga (also known as Hen island).  Rising steeply from the water, the Poor Knights are remnants of a large volcano that erupted 10 to 11 million years ago.  They have been isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, and lie in an area of converging warm water currents.  This makes for a rich diversity of plant and animal life on land and in the water, and some unique species - like Xeronema callistemon. 

At home, Xeronema callistemon grows on the volcanic rock - plants are seen perching on sea cliffs and rocky outcrops as well as on rubble in forests or as epiphytes on pohutukawa trees.  Here in Wellington, Xeronema plants can be seen in rather different territory...

Contrasts and textures of a group of New Zealand native plants - the bright red flowering spikes of Xeronema callistemon, pale spikes of spiny Aciphylla, golden brown carex and coprosmas, fresh green kowhai leaves, rich green Scleranthus mounds, strappy leaves of a cordyline - all on a large traffic island by Courtenay Place in central Wellington (I wrote about it last year too - see "Midwinter glow"). 

Xeronema's clumps of yellow-green upright sword shaped leaves are impressive in their own right.  Just as well - these plants can be very slow (years!) to flower.

The rich red flowers appear in spring - large bristly bottlebrush shapes on a long (about a metre) stalk which bends at the top so that the flowers sit in a horizontal position - a good perch for nectar feeders.  They mature progressively - in the picture above you can see the orange pollen develop and become pale as the flower ages from front to back. 

The leaves grow into a thick clump, and one with lots of flowers is a delight to see.

The bees agree.  Mostly they are partially hidden as they burrow deep in the flowers to find the nectar (I presume) and get a bit tangled up in the process.  There are a number of bees at work on this plant.

But I caught this bumblebee as it came out, apparently for a quick breather, before diving back in.