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Moody Blues

2 April 2024
chatham island forget me not flowers
M. hortensia has stunning blue flowers.

One of our most beautiful, yet vulnerable, natives is a garden favourite.
WORDS & PHOTOS GILLIAN VINE

The Chatham Islands have a splendid array of plants found nowhere else. There are unique geraniums, Astelia, mingimingi and Olearia, but the most familiar is the stunning blue Chatham Island forget-me-not or lily, Myosotidium hortensia.
In Māori, Chatham Island forget-me-not is known as kopakopa (a word also applied to low-growing kidney fern Cardiomanes reniforme) or kōpukapuka.
Coastal clusters
Endemic to New Zealand, specifically the Chatham Islands, the Chatham Island forget-me-not grows on cliffs and above the tideline on half a dozen islands, flowering from September to December and fruiting from October to May.
The large, glossy leaves are lovely but it is the flower clusters, in shades from pale to dark blue (sometimes almost violet or, rarely, pink) that really add the ‘wow factor’. There is also a white form, fortunately propagated by some nurseries, as the last patch of wild plants was destroyed about a decade ago, victims of coastal development.
As plants grow, they develop brown, woody bases, and after blooming, they produce dark brown or black seeds that germinate readily. Mature Chatham Island forget-me-nots will reach 60–90cm tall and 1m wide. They are evergreen but the outer leaves tend to die down over winter.
Shelter & protect
In cultivation, the Chatham Island forget-me-not seems to do best in a shady or semi-shaded garden that doesn’t get windblown or dry out but has good drainage. Unfortunately for northern gardeners, it gets the pip in humid conditions, being short-lived or giving up at an early stage.
Not very fussy about soil, poor ground does not faze the Chatham Island forget-me-not but it dislikes being crowded. Indeed, weeds – especially marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), a European introduction – are among its worst enemies in the wild. Add browsing possums, rodents, cattle and sheep, and you’ll understand why the Chatham Island forget-me-not is designated vulnerable in its natural habitat.
Affordable colour
Being so spectacular, M. hortensia has become popular in Britain, where it is considered half-hardy – for example, nurseries recommend growing plants under cover in an unheated glasshouse. A large plant there will set you back about £35 (NZ$73), compared with $20 or less here.
A good source of inexpensive or free plants is garden-club sales tables – I paid $5 each for my plants – or friends whose plants have produced seedlings.
Home growing
Plants fruit from October to May and seed sown in trays spring will flower the following spring. Seed sown in early autumn (March to April) should flower in spring or summer the same year.
Seed is also available from some commercial growers. Expect to pay about $1 a seed.
If you have the right spot, a Chatham Island forget-me-not – or better still, a patch of several plants – is an easy-care native that is a joy to have.

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