Almost all the plants have been grown from cuttings or seeds collected from their original habitats. The collection has the following roles:
- Conservation: Seedlings of threatened species are raised and either kept in the gardens as a conservation measure, or returned to the wild in plant conservation recovery programmes.
- Research: Scientists use the plant collections for studying plant ecology, economic potential, and classification.
- Education: Plants are labelled to help visitors learn about their names and characteristics.
- Recreation: Otari-Wilton's Bush is a great place for locals and tourists to escape urban life and appreciate New Zealand's unique flora.
The plant collections were started in 1926 by eminent New Zealand botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne. He aimed to set up a collection of solely New Zealand native plants, displayed in family groups or as re-created ecosystems representing different areas of New Zealand.
See our lists of Otari's plant collections:
Native plants from habitats ranging from subalpine to high alpine. There are grasses, some trees, and a wide range of alpine herbs.
Brockie rock garden
The rock garden is home to a wide variety of plants that have special growth requirements. The collection features plant life from the coastline to mountaintop including subantarctic islands.
Cabbage Tree Lawn
This is one of our secluded picnic lawns near one of the original entrances to Wilton’s Bush. Job Wilton, the farmer who fenced off part of his forest in the 1860s lived just a minutes’ walk from here. In years to come people from across the city sought out ‘Wilton’s Bush’ to picnic and visit.
Wellington City Council purchased Wilton’s Bush when it became available in 1901. Five years later, Council formally recognised the unique asset as the Reserve we have today. In 1952 the Wilton family funded the construction of the Wilton Memorial Gate where an access road had formerly led to the Wilton homestead. You can see the Wilton Memorial Gate at the end of the lawn next to the Bowling Club Entrance.
This border houses a number of the larger native conifers, and features many larger trees such as miro, matai, kauri, rimu, and kahikatea. There are also a number of less well-known species.
Daisies of New Zealand
New Zealand’s daisies have considerable diversity in size and form, ranging from flat spreading mat plants to forest dwelling trees. Daisies are one of the most widespread plant families, with over 20,000 species worldwide.
Tree daisies (Olearia) are the largest daisies found in New Zealand. The largest of these mammoth daisies can reach over 10 metres tall.
A high proportion are from alpine areas, including mountain daisies (Celmisia), the unusual vegetable sheep (Raoulia) and creeping button daisies (Leptinella).
What we often consider a typical daisy flower is actually a cluster of flowers called an inflorescence. A daisy inflorescence is commonly made up of small disc florets in the central disc, with larger ray florets making up the ‘petals’ encircling the disc. If you look closely, you can see each floret is actually an entire flower.
Divaricate describes shrubs with stiff, interlaced, zig-zagging stems.
New Zealand has about 60 species with this growth habit.
On the edge of the bush area, this collection of native ferns from around the country includes a range of forms from the giant parapara, or king fern to the iconic silver fern and small ground-covering and tree climbing species.
Grass and sedge species
This border is home to a collection of native species of grasses and sedges. It shows the wide range of colour, size and form of these plants in New Zealand.
There are two hebe borders - a hebe cultivar border with a collection of horticultural selections, and a hebe species border with naturally occurring species from around New Zealand.
Harakeke and wharariki - New Zealand flax
These are one of the most iconic plants of New Zealand. Although more closely related to lilies, European settlers named it flax after they saw its leaf fibre had similar properties to the common flax (Linum) from Europe.
New Zealand flax remains important to Maori who wove the fibre into many everyday items. Though botanists recognise only two species, Maori named many different varieties based on the quality of fibre and the plant’s form.
Harakeke (swamp flax) is taller with upright leaves. Some can reach up to three metres tall with even taller flower spikes. The seedpods on the flower stems grow upwards on the stem.
Wharariki (mountain flax) is smaller in height (to around 1.5 metres), often with a more floppy appearance. The seedpods on the flower stems hang downwards from the stem.
This border has a collection of mature kowhai trees in it, and includes some kakabeak and varied other underplantings. It is very attractive to birds, particularly tui and kereru when it is in flower.
The forest area at Otari includes a stand of original bush, 17 acres set aside by Job Wilton in 1860, and a much larger area of regenerating bush. The original bush has some very large trees such as rimu and rata, which are estimated to be between 400 - 800 years old.
The regenerating bush started in the gullies and now covers most of the reserve, working its way up to the tops of the hills on the far side of the valley.
New Zealand broom
A collection of New Zealand broom (Carmichaelia) species, some of which have unusual branch structures and are highly scented when in flower.
Plants for the home garden
This garden shows a range of horticultural cultivars and hybrids of native plants.
They have been selected for their colours, foliage, or other unusual features.
Large areas of this rainshadow area are covered by tussock grasslands and the many native plants that have adapted to tolerate dry conditions.
The plants in this garden are from Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago where in some places rainfall can be as low as 200mm per year (Wellington gets about 1200mm).
As the westerly wind hits the Southern Alps and rises, moisture in the air cools, condenses and falls as rain. After passing over the mountains, the moisture is gone and the plains to the east, where these plants come from, are in the 'rain shadow'.
Southern beech forest
Southern beech trees are evergreen trees found across the southern hemisphere. They are distant cousins of the northern hemisphere deciduous beech trees.
New Zealand has five native beech trees: red, silver, hard, black and mountain beech.
The small seed of southern beech is heavy, never falling far from the tree. Because of this beech forest colonises ground very slowly compared to species with seed dispersed by birds or by wind.
Some years beech trees produce huge amount of seed. This is called a mast year and is thought to be either produced by favorable climactic conditions or a mechanism designed to avoid predators. The massive numbers of seed allows some to germinate while the majority are eaten.
Human settlement has caused many plants to disappear from New Zealand's forests, wetlands and coasts. Major losses are blamed on industries such as agriculture and forestry, and the introduction of animal pests and invasive weeds.
Several New Zealand plants are already extinct and over 180 plants are classified as severely threatened.
You can help by:
- getting rid of garden waste responsibly to prevent the spread of weeds
- planting natives in your home garden to help attract native birds and insects
- talking to our staff and finding out what you can do to help conserve our native plants.
Tree fern garden
Next to the Fernery, this garden showcases New Zealand tree ferns. These are a common sight in New Zealand forests and belong to an ancient group of plants that appeared in the age of the dinosaurs. Mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) - New Zealand's tallest tree fern - can reach up to 20m.
The name of this garden reflects the natural distribution of kauri forest (Agathis australis), which grows from North Cape down to latitude 38° South.
Alongside the young kauri in this garden, there grow other native plants that have a similar distribution - only growing naturally in the northern half of the North Island. For example, the beautiful taraire tree (Beilschmiedia taraire) which frames the entrance to the garden. Taraire is very common in the north, but only grows naturally down to the Waikato area.
Wellington coastal plants
Plants from the Wellington Coast, many of which are now fairly rare in the wild. This collection is one way of helping to conserve these species by setting up populations in a protected and managed area.