Going Native with Maureen Young

Maureen Young knows her native plants. She’s a self-taught field botanist who knows her mānuka from her kānuka, and can spot a Tasmanian ngaio masquerading as a New Zealander. She has created definitive preserved plant collections for Hauturu and the Rodney area, and has had multiple studies published. Maureen is a botanical treasure who volunteers her time and expertise to help out all over New Zealand cataloguing native species.

Maureen first fell in love with plants in 1956, while in the sixth form at Warkworth District High School. “All the other 16-year-olds fell in love with Elvis Presley but I fell in love with a fern – Blechnum filiforme. It grows on the ground and has a little sterile frond, and then, as it comes to a tree, it grows up and the fronds get longer and longer, and then the fertile fronds are all way up high. To find a fern that had three forms of leaves just seemed magical.

Field botanists with the depth of knowledge and skill that Maureen possesses are vital when it comes to understanding and maintaining the health of our native bush. “All the current taxonomists are getting old and we need some replacements. We need people who know their plants,” Maureen opines.

One of Maureen’s bugbears, she tells me. “I’m very disappointed that they don’t teach botany like they used to at Auckland University. There are all these young people working for the regional councils, DOC and privately, and they don’t know enough about plants. How can you establish an accurate baseline if you can’t even identify your plants properly?

Maureen is concerned over the planting of species in areas in which they are not native. “They planted five big kōwhai trees in Kōwhai Park when they upgraded it, but they planted a variety that grows down at Lake Taupō. I asked why they hadn’t planted the local kōwhai and they said, ‘Oh, what is the local kōwhai?’ Now, shouldn’t that be the first question they ask!” 

Maureen acknowledges how lucky she was to have mentors in Warkworth of the calibre of Lucy Moore and Dr Max Hamilton, and the Auckland Botanical Society has been a huge influence in her life. She is a life member of the Society and helps organise their monthly field trips which venture to all corners of New Zealand. “Joining the Auckland Botanical Society is a great way for people to get into botany, and I also highly recommend visiting the website of the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network.”

Maureen is not a big fan of replanting programs: “I love nothing better than to see natural regeneration. Just keep areas weed free and let them regenerate naturally. That way we get the right varieties for the area.”

Maureen is a local and national treasure, and she is extremely generous with her time and knowledge. She’s happy to take small groups out into the bush for some ‘botanising’ because that is where she is happiest. “I don’t know from where other people get their excitement. Botanists get this wonderful thrill from finding unusual or unexpected plants.”

As for future plans, Maureen is assisting on several botanical publications but doesn’t plan anything too far ahead. “I’ve always said that I intend dying in the bush with my boots on and I don’t give a damn if it takes three weeks to find me because I won’t be worried. However, I am a bit more sensible these days about not going into the bush on my own.”

Auckland Botanical Society  www.sites.google.com/site/aucklandbotanicalsociety

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network www.nzpcn.org.nz

Waimarie Dashper