Behind its cute and feathery disguise, lurks a plant capable of unlimited growth with an aptitude for getting itself around. Selaginella (Selaginella kraussiana) is another example of a plant that had us fooled. Looking like an innocent groundcover, it managed to bluff its way around the country early last century. A native to Central and South Africa, selaginella thrived in New Zealandís temperate climate and in a way that is beginning to sound too familiar, set its sights beyond the confines of the backyard and headed for the bush.
Selaginella now grows as a weed on damp forest floors and along stream banks Ė not to mention in many gardens. Despite its delicate looks, en masse selaginella forms a thick carpet that prevents seedlings from establishing and chokes low growing native species such as orchids, mosses and ferns. Some of New Zealandís most beautiful reserves are plagued by this plant, from Trounson Kauri Park in the north to Lake Matheson in the south. And so Department of Conservation rangers have successfully hardened their hearts against its feathery disguise and are ridding it from reserves all around the country.
Selaginella gets around by spores and, most alarmingly, by tiny fragments of the plant. Adventitious roots will grow from small stems which are easily carried on dirty machinery, livestock, boots, shoes, as well as in contaminated soil and dumped garden waste. In one baffling case, selaginella was found growing on Kapiti Island. The infestation was near a seat on a walkway and the most likely explanation was that it hitched a ride on someoneís shoe.
In light of these pestilential tricks selaginella was put on the National Pest Plant Accord List and banned from sale, distribution and propagation. That was in 2001, but today selaginella is still on the loose and can often be found growing amongst other plants being sold in nurseries and garden centres. If you notice it lurking around, take a moment to warn the shop of their uninvited guest, and let your local Regional Council know. Your timely action could help save a forest reserve! For more information about the National Pest Plant Accord and banned plants, visit www.protectnz.org.nz