Central Otago’s extreme climatic conditions and weather sheltering ranges and their underlying geology play host to a unique flora. Through the ice ages that carved out valleys, fiords and lake beds (the entire area even having once been submerged) to warm periods lasting thousands of years - Central Otago, NZ has developed a unique and abundant flora. Numerous plants have evolved to cope with the vagaries of this harsh environment over millions of years.
Fossil beds are all that remain of a past rainforest some 80 millions years ago. Surprisingly, a small collection of saline coastal plants systems can be discovered at inland salt pan valley sites. Rare grasses, sprawling cushion plants, lichens and mountain flowers characterize the landscape of Central Otago regional flora.
The plant diversity is deep, yet the Central Otago landscape is relatively treeless, with only the occasional lone tree punctuating its spaciousness. Thyme grows in abundance. Wild flowers colour the lowlands with the blues of viper’s bugloss, and the brilliant yellows of Californian poppies. A high proportion of the biodiversity once found in the Maniototo, Manuherikia and Clutha Valleys has been reduced by the onset of cultivation, new pasture species, associated fertilizer and irrigation. Only 30 significant Central Otago NZ biodiversity sites still remain for visitors to discover and appreciate.
On a broader scale Central Otago New Zealand vistas are dominated by the hues and colours of grassland tussock carpeting the forms and folds of the schist rock ranges. Their movement in response to the wind and light is captivating. What appears to be one species is indeed varied in range, form, size and habit. On bended knee between the tussocks one can explore what only can be described as a knee high forest - home to more plants than under a beech forest.
Dry land ecosystems are one of New Zealand’s most threatened landscapes. Now many are totally confined to Central Otago, with us as the only guardians of their future survival. Central Otago’s flora is best described as diverse in its knee-high nature.
Click here to read about the Karearea, one of Central Otago's rare birds which inhabits the Central Otago landscape.