The Gully Project: We have science!
My botanic discovery on Day 4 of the Gully Project was this attractive little seedling, found growing through the leaf litter about a metre from the stream bank. I was completely stumped by this one at first (not unusual it itself - my botanical knowledge is so limited), but somehow worked out that it might be titoki (Alectryon excelsus). The tricky thing with titoki is that its leaf form varies from being toothed (as in this little fellow) to only having subtle 'toothing' around the leaf margins. I suspect too that the form may change in the same individual as it grows from a juvenile to mature tree.
This tree, which grows up to 12 to 20 metres, is fairly common in coastal and lowland forests in the North Island and coastal forests in the top half of the South Island. It tends to favour alluvial ground such as river flats, so it is not surprising that it has found itself a spot down by the stream.
Oil squeezed from the seeds of the titoki was valued by Maori as hair oil, and was also used for various medicinal applications. European settlers sometimes referred to it as the New Zealand ash because of the resemblance of its foliage to the European ash.
And in other news... we now have science! Yesterday my electronic blood pressure monitor arrived. This will enable me to measure my blood pressure before and after my excursions down into the gully. Blood pressure is one way to measure external effects, such as nature immersion, on stress levels in the body. As previously mentioned, the hormone cortisol, found in saliva, is probably a better, more reliable one, but I don't think cortisol test kits for home are available in New Zealand - happy to be corrected on this though! So blood pressure it is. Hopefully I will be able to report on this after my next excursion.