The highest section of the Routeburn Track, between Routeburn Falls and Lake Mackenzie, is above bushline. This alpine snow tussock grassland has a rich diversity of herbs which produce a spectacular array of flowers during the summer months. The most noticeable are the daisies ( Senecio and Dolichoglottis), buttercups (Ranunculus), and speargrass (Aciphylla). Flowering alpine plants are particularly attractive in december in the Lake Harris basin because it lies to the sun and is sheltered from the prevailing southerly and westerly winds. Key Summit is an alpine botanical paradise, with its carpets of bog plants, sundews, bladderworts, ground orchids and daisies can be seen reflected in the tarns around the summit, all scattered among an open krummholz-type vegetation of low growing silver beech and pink pine (Halocarpus biforme) set against the backdrop of the sharp peaks of Fiordland National Park.
Mountain Daisies / Celmisia
These large mountain daisies are frequently seen along the alpine section of the track. They are part of the sunflower family and endemic to NZ. Flowering November to February. Also known as Armstrong’s mountain Daisy.
Mt Cook Buttercup / Ranunculus Lyalli
These are the world’s largest buttercup, sometimes growing to over a metre tall with leaves as large as 40cm.. seen along the alpine section especially in the upper Harris Basin (Harris Saddle to Falls Hut). Endemic to NZ. Flowering from October to January.
South Island Edelweiss
Grows in the Subalpine to alpine regions. Seen on rock outcrops, cliff faces and on rocky ground, either in the open or in light scrub areas. Best place to see them is on top of Conical Hill. Look on the northern side where the rock faces get plenty of sun. There are hundreds growing there. Flowering. November to March. Related to the Swiss Edelweiss and endemic to NZ.
Also known as Golden Spaniard. Grows amongst the alpine tussock grassland. Is very tough and very very spiky. So be careful if your walking passed them on the track. Grows to about 1.5m when in flower during November and December.
Pineapple Shrub / Dracophyllum
A medium size shrub with many branched leaves. The leavery leaves can be 20cm long and the shrub can grow to 2m. Dracophyllum or Pineapple shrub grows in the alpine regions.
Mountain Flax / Wharariki
Endemic to NZ the Mountain Flax is also one of our oldest plant species. Growing to about 1.6m. Common throughout the track. Can be flowering from September to January and fruiting from November to March. Best seen just outside Lake Howden Hut. From mid December. Many of the native birds enjoy the nectar from the flax flower.
Mountain Hebe / Hebe Odora
Endemic to NZ. This is an evergreen shrub growing to 1m with glossy green spear shaped leaves that are 1.5cm long. Flowering in December and January.
Alpine Cushion Plant
These plants form large (3m) low growing mats, only a few inches high. They can withstand the exposed and harsh conditions of the alpine environment. Flowering January and February. Best seen around Harris Saddle.
Greenhood Orchid / Pterostylis
These are terrestrial herbs with an underground tuber like many other orchids but are distinguished by a Hood-like “Galea”. Best seen on side of track 5 mins from Routeburn caroark, during December and January.
White Finger Orchid / Caladenia Lyallii
5-20cm high, with 1-4 flowers 2-4cm across. Slender stem covered in short hairs. Flowers November to January. Found on side of track near Routeburn carark.
Green Bird Orchid / Chiloglottis cornuta
4-10cm high, with two green leaves lying directly opposite each other 3-10cm. Flowers during October to Feburary. Seen at Routeburn Flats campsite.
2-3m tall with the classic hebe leaves in alternating opposite pairs. The strongly scented flowers are loved by butterflies and bees. Normally flower in January and seeds in April
Tree Nettle / Urtica ferox
Known by Maori as Ongaonga, is endemic to NZ. Grows up to 3m The pale green leaves are very thin. The surface of the leaf, stems and stalk are covered in stiff stinging hairs (6mm). Stay well clear of this plant otherwise you’ll get a nasty sting which can lasts for a few days. There is a great example of this plant at the Divide carpark on the bush edge.
Red Mistletoe / Peraxilla tetrapetala
These are partly parasitic plants that rely on a host tree for water and nutrients. Birds help pollinate mistletoe and disperse the seeds. However due to declining bird numbers, this has in turn threaten the survival of these plants. Flowers in December. Seen on Routeburn road and Lake Sylvan campsite.
More of a pest plant, but one which is edible. Located outside the Routeburn Flats Hut. Visitors in January usually fill their breakfast bowl with this delicious fruit. Hut wardens are known for making the yearly Flats Raspberry Jam.
Beech Strawberry Fungus / Cyttaria gunnii
These soft, yellow-orange beech strawberries are up to 2.5cm in size. This fungus is a parasite on silver beech trees. Also known as Beech Oranges. The fruit has a jelly texture and reportedly pleasant tasting. Though this is not recommended. Appears in October to January.
Fungi are a common and diverse group that include mushrooms, puffballs, yeasts and moulds. They gain nutrients from living or dead material around them. Seen mainly in the lower bush sections from February to May.
Bush Lawyer / Tataramoa
This thorny vine is found throughout the Routeburn. The plant has hand shaped leaves, white flowers and yellowish-red fuit. The backward pointing prickles on the stems help the vine to climb up to the open canopy. They are better known though for snaring unwary trampers who stray from the track. You will know when you encounter bush lawyer, as the thorns will painfully scrape across any exposed skin quickly drawing blood. They say that like any good lawyer, once they get a hold of you, it doesn’t let go easily.
Lichen come in many different colours shapes and forms. They can grow on bare rock, bark, leaves and other lichen. Their growth rate is usually less than 1mm per year. They are known to be amongst the oldest living things. During rain the lichen can conduct photosynthesis and the lichen then turns greener.
Mosses are an ancient group of simple plants dating back over 300 million years. They are dependent on water for survival. Most mosses are small leafy green plants growing on soil, bark, or rock.
Or Shelf fungi are typically tough and sturdy often growing in semi-circular shapes. Producing spores within the pores that make up the undersurface. Common throughout the forest, found growing on logs and still standing dead trees. They feed off the wood for years and develop annual growth rings.
Old Mans Beard Lichen / Usnea Species
There are hundreds of species of Usnea and the Old man’s beard comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes; long beards (like goat beards), short beards, more greenish, more grey/yellowish. Usnea grows world-wide and is found on every continent.