Gus Clelland, Aubrie Mitchell and Kane Tipene – the Epilobium Group – with their plans for the garden to protect the endangered plant.
It likes chaos, might easily be mistaken for a weed and is so endangered, it’s been dubbed ‘Hobsonville’s kakapo’.
Epilobium hirtigerum is right on Hobsonville Point’s doorstep, and a group of students from the secondary school is designing a garden to protect it.
Year 12 students Gus Clelland, Aubrie Mitchell and Kane Tipene have been working on the design since mid-2016 as part of their school’s project learning – real world projects involving the community.
A section of the site at Scott Point on which the students’ garden design is based.
Epilobium – or ‘epi’ as it’s known – is a native herbaceous willowherb and needs disturbed ground to grow.
It’s critically threatened and is so rare that not much is known about it.
The critically-endangered epilobium can easily be mistaken for a weed.
Large clusters of the plant were discovered at a site near a nursery at Scott Point in 2008.
Several years later Auckland Council began actively trying to restore the patch. In 2014, Hobsonville Point Secondary School got involved with the project.
Gus, Aubrie and Kane all worked on designs for a garden as a part of a larger class activity, however, picked it up again for their personal learning project in 2016 and “started from scratch”.
Auckland Council biodiversity advisor Chris Ferkins with a cluster of epilobium.
The students say their design has changed a lot, with less concrete and more nature, letting the plants act as the park’s base. It’s currently divided into two main sections on either side of a stream.
“It kind of changed from being a structured park with different areas, to it being more of a free-flowing experience,” Gus says.
The students also needed to allow enough open space for diggers to enter the garden to ‘scrape’ away other plants encroaching on room needed for the epilobium to germinate successfully.
They’ve tracked their progress so far with Auckland Council’s infrastructure and environmental services biodiversity advisor Chris Ferkins, who says their work shows a high level of skill, especially working in an area without clear definitions, which also carries the remnants of human activity.
“Part of these guys’ skill is to be able see that ‘mess’… and from that to be able to think about, ‘How can we turn this into a design so other people can see and appreciate this for what it is?'” he says.
The group have spoken at the Upper Harbour Local Board’s community forum and will try to raise further awareness about the plant with an exhibition at the ‘Come Fly With Me’ festival in April.
Community consultation on the future of the park will take place later in the year, where the students will be able to show their ideas.
Two former Unitec students have also been doing research into epilobium to find out how it best grows and which species complement it.
Ferkins says the epilobium at the park is still “very vulnerable”, as it’s all in one place.
“The wider we can spread that population, the more sort of satellite clusters of plant there are, the less at risk it is.”
– North Harbour News
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