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Mountain neinei
Dracophyllum traversii canopy.jpg
Scientific classification
Synonyms

D. pyramidale W.R.B.Oliv.

Dracophyllum traversii, commonly known as mountain neinei, grass tree, and pineapple tree is a tree (or, in some cases, a shrub) that grows from 0.2–13 m tall. Its leaves form tufts at the end of branches, like that of species in the family Bromeliaceae. Endemic to New Zealand it is found in the North and South Islands, producing up to 3000 red flowers in Summer.

Description

Dracophyllum traversii is a shrub or tree that grows to a height of 0.2–13 m tall. It has flaky light brown bark with leaves that concentrate at the ends of branches similar to that of species in the family Bromeliaceae. Its leaves are 9–86 by 1.7–5 cm, leathery and very finely toothed such that there are 18 to 20 teeth every 10 mm. The green leaves are each sheathed in 3–7 by 3–5 mm green to light brown sheaths. It flowers from October to February with densely packed 18–40 cm long inflorescences producing 500 to 3000 or more red (sometimes green) flowers on each. The inflorescence has an axis 1.3–1.65 cm in diameter with 3–6 cm branches at right angles to the axis. It fruits from December to May producing yellow-brown coloured 0.95–1 mm long egg-shaped seeds. The seeds are dispersed by wind, easy given their tiny size.

Dracophyllum traversii is also estimated to have a lifespan of 500 - 600 years and is deciduous, losing its leaves during the growing season, mainly from December through to March. It has an average annual wood increment for adult trees of 0.4 - 0.49 mm and 0.6 - 0.9 mm for juvenile trees between 100 - 150 years old.

Taxonomy

Dracophyllum traversii was first described by Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1867. Dracophyllum means 'dragon leaf', drawing from its similarity to the dragon tree from the Canary Islands. The specific epithet traversii refers to William Thomas Locke Travers, a New Zealand lawyer, politician, explorer, and naturalist who lived in New Zealand from 1849.

As of January 2021, the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network regards Dracophyllum pyramidale as a synonym of D. traversii. Plants of the World Online, however, regards them as separate species, D. traversii occurring in the South Island and D. pyramidale in the North Island. One 1987 study on the flora of north-west Nelson claimed the only visible difference between D. traversii and D. pyramidale was a wax on the surface of the leaves of D. traversii.

The most recent taxonomic arrangement of the genus Dracophyllum is that described by W. R. B. Oliver in a 1952 supplement of the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In this supplement D. traversii is unchanged from his original 1929 arrangement but, since a complete genomic sequencing of the genus has not been undertaken, these placements are in no way final.

D. traversii's placement can be summarised as follows:

Genus Dracophyllum

Subgenus Cordophyllum
Subgenus Oreothamnus
Subgenus Eudracophyllum
Group of D. menziesii
Group of D. secundum
Group of D. milliganii
Group of D. verticillatum
Group of D. latifolium
D. latifolium – D. matthewsii – D. traversii – D. pyramidale

Distribution

Dracophyllum traversii is endemic to New Zealand and is found in both the North and South Islands. In the North Island it can be found from Waima Forest south to Taumarunui but also stretches east to the East Cape. In the South, it is found in North-west Nelson down to Fiordland and Central Otago.

Ecology

Kea feed on D. traversii during the winter, mainly eating the young foliage and shoot apices, which are also eaten by an unidentified larva. Scales in the genus Coelostomidia have been found laying their eggs under old bark and scars on leaves. The fruit, however, are almost not preyed upon at all, with only an estimated 0.01% eaten by larvae. It is commonly found in association with Libocedrus bidwillii, Phyllocladus aspleniifolius var. alpinus, Podocarpus hallii, Metrosideros umbellata, and Olearia lacunosa. Because D. traversii is deciduous the area under trees is often covered with leaf litter, in some places to 10 cm or more deep, which prohibits the growth of other plants. Typically leaves are shed when they reach the age of six years and full growth takes 2 - 3 growing seasons, with each occurring from around September to April.

Etymology

Dracophyllum is from the genus's similarity to species in the genus Dracaena and is Ancient Greek for "dragon-leaf." The specific epithet traversii honours the New Zealand politician and naturalist William Travers.

Cultivation

D. traversii is best propagated from seed and needs a constantly moist soil, though will likely be very slow growing and difficult to establish. It grows best in a semi-shaded area in humus and cultivation from wild specimens is not recommended as they are likely to die.

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