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.
Here is a complete list of Otari's plant collections:
Plant Accessions List (54KB PDF) | Text version (41KB RTF)
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.
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.
A collection of Coprosma species from around New Zealand, showing the diversity of this genus. The collection includes shrubs, spreading groundcovers and a wide range of other forms.
Taupata - Coprosma Repens (28KB PDF)
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.
The harakeke or New Zealand flax border is a collection of highly coloured horticultural selections of flax. Harakeke attracts birds and is regularly visited by nectar feeders such as tui.
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.
New Zealand's native tree daisies are found in nearly all New Zealand habitats, from the sea shore to alpine scree slopes.
This border highlights the diversity of the Pittosporum genus, from large-leaved trees to small-leaved twiggy shrubs.
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'.
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.