Mosses and lichens

Mosses and lichens are small plants that abound along the banks of the track. There is a bewildering variety.

Mosses are green plants that grow in dense patches, each shoot looking like a miniature tree. One is named totara because it looks like a miniature conifer, while another, called Dawsonia superba, is similarly shaped but much bigger and is thought to be the world’s largest moss—it can be seen just over the Observation Creek bridge.

Mosses absorb rain water and are important habitats for tree seedlings to germinate and they harbour worms and insects that ground birds feed on.

Lichens are usually grey but come in many, often bright, colours. They are fungi that contain green algae. Hence they not only make their own food but also absorb nutrients from soil and decaying trees. This makes them very tough to withstand drought, so they often grow in the open, spreading over the soil and protecting it.

New Zealand is rich in lichens. Sometimes they grow on tree trunks and even leaves, and some grow only on coastal rocks. They produce spore bodies that can be black, yellow or red, and very eye-catching.


Crustose lichen

Crustose lichen bearing pink spore bodies—photo Philip Simpson


Lichens mosses and ferns on rockface

Lichens, mosses and ferns on rockface—photo Philip Simpson