Large areas of Puketi Forest have never been logged. Many of the trees are centuries old. These old forest giants are home to dozens of epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on another plant but don’t take any nourishment from it (unlike parasitic plants). The epiphyte benefits by being closer to, or above, the canopy and hence receives more light for increased photosynthesis. In some cases the host tree also benefits as some epiphytes accumulate large amounts of organic matter (up to half a metre in depth) and some trees grow roots from their trunk and branches to extract nourishment from the humus in their crowns.
The perching lily (scientific name, Collospermum hastatum) is one of the largest and most magnificent of the epiphytes. It is well adapted to life in the tree tops. Its long, erect, somewhat fleshy V-shaped leaves are arranged in fans to channel water to the base, where it’s held until needed during dry spells. One of New Zealand’s species of mosquitoes breeds exclusively in this small reservoir of water.
Other species such as the epiphytic Pittosporums (P.cornifolium and P.kirkii) and a number of ferns and fern allies (for example, Sickle Spleenwart, Asplenium polyodon and hanging club moss, Huperzia varia) also take advantage of the humus.