News | 20 September 2021

A jewel in Pōneke's crown

Home to Pōneke’s largest area of old growth forest and the only public botanic garden in Aotearoa dedicated solely to native plants, Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush really is a special place.

A man with short-brown hair wearing a black work vest standing in between moss-covered tree trunks, staring up towards the native forest canopy.

But it’s much more than just a beautiful location with abundant birdlife and pretty plants.

Manager Tim Park describes Ōtari Wilton’s Bush as having four key pillars.

“The first is it’s a place of recreation where people can come and discover the kilometres of varied trails and beautiful native flora.

“Secondly, it’s a place of education. We have partnerships with schools and organisations who come to learn about nature, as well as being a place where individuals can come to learn and study native plants. Many are inspired with what they might like to do with natives in their garden at home!

“It’s also a place of research and developing our understanding of nature, with it being a key site for science and mātauranga. We need to know how our streams and forests function naturally if we want to restore them well.

“Last but not least, it’s a place of conservation. We have collected plants from across the motu and sustain them in our gardens. In some cases, plants in our care have since become extinct in the wild, due to the impact of pests and habitat loss, and many more species are threatened. We are involved in repatriating those species back into the wild where they belong.”

A group of greyish green small native plants in black pots with white tags in a nursery.

The Ōtari Wilton’s Bush native plant collection dates back almost 100 years and contains 1,400 species native to Aotearoa and its offshore islands.

Tim says the Lions Ōtari Plant Conservation Laboratory on site plays an important role in preserving the country’s native plants. Seeds of threatened species are stored in the seed bank, and either kept in the gardens as a conservation measure or returned to the wild in plant conservation recovery programmes.

“We are finding that many native plant seeds are hard to store using conventional methods so we are developing techniques to ensure we can put them away safely for the long-term,” Tim says.

“An example of our conservation work is with maukoro (Carmichaelia williamsii). This large flowered native tree broom is sadly now locally extinct in Hicks Bay, and likely functionally extinct in Te Ika a Māui, now only living in self-sustaining populations on offshore islands up north. We collected seeds and cuttings from the Hicks Bay plant recently to help return it to the wild.”

A man wearing a green camo bush jersey and black vest leaning over the side of a wooden boardwalk to inspect white, geometrically shaped spheres that are plant matter, which are growing in between native grasses.

Tim says another exciting project is the refurbishment of the visitor centre. The team is working with mana whenua to weave together Ōtari stories of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti, to welcome people to the garden.

Tips from the Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush team

  • Rat-proof your compost bin and set a trap to keep vermin away from your home and our native wildlife.
  • Remove old man’s beard and other invasive weeds from your garden and road reserve.
  • Plant a kōwhai or tōtara tree in your back yard to bring home the tūī and kākā.
  • Join a local group to help restore a reserve in your neighbourhood.
Otari-Wilton's Bush manager Tim Park looking down at a small potted native plant that he is holding, while standing amongst other potted plants which are blurred in the background.

The Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush Open Day on Saturday 25 September is moving online, due to the Covid Alert Level. It will feature a variety of webinars and live-stream tours. Open Day in-person tours have been cancelled.

Find out more about Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush at wellingtongardens.nz/our-gardens/otari-wiltons-bush

Check out the latest Our Wellington - Tō Tātou Pōneke magazine to find this story, project updates, hidden gems to discover, and other articles highlighting Wellington's natural spaces.