Rhabdothamnus solandri The yellow-flowered taurepo


Scientific name: Rhabdothamnus solandri (Rhabdothamnus deriving from the Greek meaning twiggy shrub and solandri named after the Swedish botanist on Captain Cook’s first voyage - Daniel Carl Solander, 1733-1782. It was one of the plants collected and described by Solander on this voyage)


Common names: New Zealand Gloxinia, taurepo, matata, waiuatua


Family name: Gesneriaceae (Gesneria family)


Taurepo (Rhabdothamnus solandri) is the sole representative of the genus and the only member of the Gesneria (Gloxinia) family in New Zealand. This small twiggy shrub, which grows up to 2 metres tall, is found in coastal to lowland forests, streamside, steep bank and upland locations, throughout the North Island. It has small brightly coloured trumpet shaped flowers that are principally adapted for bird pollination and range in colour from brick-red through to orange and more rarely a pale yellow.


The taurepo is by no means confined to Taranaki but the story of the discovery of a distinctly pale yellow-flowered form has its origins here. Pioneer New Plymouth horticulturalist and nurseryman V. C. Davies is generally credited with the discovery of such a plant in or near the Kaitake Ranges, which he subsequently brought into cultivation by means of cuttings. Duncan & Davies Ltd Nursery, of which Davies was co-founder, established themselves as New Zealand native tree specialists as early as the 1920s and promoted a more general and popular interest in New Zealand’s flora in their horticultural endeavours. The book (The cultivation of New Zealand plants) by the eminent early botanist L. Cockayne, published in 1923, contained an advertisement for the New Zealand shrubs and plants available at the New Plymouth Nursery while the 1976 (the year before V.C. Davies death) Duncan & Davies catalogue still featured “Rhabdothamnus solandri aureus -1m. Rich orange-yellow trumpets. $3.50”.


Taurepo is locally common on some streamside banks below 450m on the Kaitake Ranges, particularly in the vicinity of the former Boars Head Mine at the Weld Road entrance. It also borders the Davies Track above the Surrey Hill Road entrance. The plant also tends to favour the bank habitat created by track construction and is consequently vulnerable to routine track maintenance. The nearby Te Koru Pa Historic Reserve also features significant colonies on banks adjacent to the Oakura River and it is also found in similar habitats throughout Taranaki. The banks of the Waiwhakaiho River near Burgess Park and the Manganui River at Everett Park are further locations where it can be readily found.


L.J. Metcalf in his book the Cultivation Of New Zealand Trees And Shrubs (1972) states that the parent plant of the V. C. Davies cultivar came from the northern slopes of the Kaitakes on the property of a Dr Blackley and was subsequently destroyed by fire. H.H. Allan in the Flora of New Zealand Vol 1 (1966) also refers to this particular yellow-flowering form: “A plant from the Kaitake Range near New Plymouth was bought into cultivation by means of cuttings by Mr V.C. Davies : its flowers have a ground colour of distinct rather pale yellow (pg 954).”


Although the exact original location of the original plant is difficult to determine there have been reports of yellow-flowered forms in the Kaitakes in more recent times. There is certainly a range of colour shade and vein colour variations to be observed and while the flowers on some plants appear more yellowish when they first open, the brick-red colour is more commonly seen.


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