Monthly archives of “April 2016

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 18 – noodles below the supermarket

I have an innate hatred of supermarkets. The faster I can get in and out of them, the better. But the big supermarket near me in Nanjing takes the cake with the  time and motion issues. Walking down the street you pass what were the main doors that opened right beside the escalator going up to the supermarket. They’ve closed them, forcing everyone to a far entrance where they have to negotiate the entire lower floor of the shopping complex, to get back to the point they just passed. Then you embed your teeth in the couple in front of you who’ve just stepped on to the 2 kmph escalator and stopped dead. And then another escalator to the next floor. Then you get the escalator back down a floor to the food and cashier level, grab the food, and get in a queue. Any queue because there us no express lane. Then down the escalator, pass the doors to the street that are closed, and negotiate the whole bottom of the complex again to get out.

However, in a corner of the complex,  at street level, there’s a basic, chain-style restaurant. After perusing the menu for ages, I generally always go for the 16 rmb basic bowl of noodles (see featured image).  It’s usually more than enough for me, though sometimes I make the mistake of also ordering some dryish dumpling-like things as an entree (mistake because it’s too much food) .

The noodles I usually go for

The noodles I usually go for

I sometimes go for one of those meat-filled dumplings at the bottom left (6 rmb each, not for the whole pile in the photo). I've also tried the eggs at bottom right, also recommended.

I sometimes go for one of those meat-filled dumplings at the bottom left (6 rmb each, not for the whole pile in the photo). I’ve also tried the eggs at bottom right, also recommended.

Eating these noodles requires a combination of chopsticks and slurping from the large soup spoon. Wearing nice/light clothing not recommended. But if I’m looking for a relatively quiet place, off the street (and out of scooter horn range), it’s not bad.

The dumpling-things

The dumpling-things

This supermarket/shopping complex is on Danfeng St. Be ready to confront the scooter riders, who assume they have full right of way over any pedestrians on the footpath outside.

And then, having over-eaten,  I can waddle off to the small supermarket in my alleyway. Doesn’t have everything (no wheat-germ for my muesli), but I can duck in and out quickly.

The entrance off the ground-floor level of the supermarket complex.

The entrance off the ground-floor level of the supermarket complex.

Nanjing Street map

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 19 – vegetarian at the Jiming Temple

The Jiming temple is our neighbour at NIGPAS ( the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology). I can see them out my office window.  According to Wikipedia, the temple was first built in 557, then what we have today was “initially” constructed in 1387, then destroyed, then rebuilt. So I suspect it’s a bit like the Australian axe (“had it for 60 years, 5 handles and 3 heads!”). Whatever its true age, it is impressive.

Jiming temple at night

Jiming temple at night

Jiming temple from NIGPAS

Jiming temple from NIGPAS

Better still, it houses a restaurant. The only catch is you usually need a temple entrance ticket – 10 RMB. However, this will get you three sticks of incense. I guess you could take them home, but if not –  wander in with them. If you get lost, just keep going up. Eventually you’ll see, and smell, where the incense goes. There’s a little room with candles for you to get them alight, then, go and plant them in the big bowl. And try not to brand the underside of your arm as you do.

Ready to place incense in the bowl.

Ready to place incense in the bowl.

The restaurant entrance is directly opposite. It’s entirely vegetarian, with a bunch of mock meat dishes. I tried ‘Vegetarian goose noodles’ – for 10 RMB. Now here’s a thing. You can go to some restaurants, look at the menu, and decide that the photo with the plate of four dumplings for 5 RMB looks like a nice entree. Then, when it arrives, you find out it was 5 RMB for just one dumpling. Here, I thought I would splash out and try a couple of entrees advertised at 5 RMB – and  basically got what was in the photo. Three of one and four of the other – sort of biscuits, warm, and with a soft center of sticky rice. The vege goose was heaps for lunch, so the biscuits went home for dessert. See the featured image for the whole deal.

Menu-2

Menu-1

The Jiming Temple restaurant is in the north of Nanjing. From your table you can look directly over the wall, and on to the lake. The temple complex closes at 6:00 pm.

Nanjing Cheap Eats full map2

 

 

 

 

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New Zealand’s Rata and Pohutakawa – riders of the Miocene storms?

There is a Maori legend than when one of their ancestral canoes (the Te Arawa) approached New Zealand after traveling from its Pacific homeland, its crew saw the trees along the coast covered in red. Thinking these were abundant red-feathered birds, a chief thew away his priceless red-bird feather headdress. When the canoe finally reached shore, the migrants found the red to be flowers of the rata or pohutakawa tree. Nice, but useless to make headdresses out of.

Rata/pohutakawa  (Metrosideros) have a fossil record in New Zealand going back at least twenty million years. Metrosideros leaf cuticle is known from several places of Pliocene and Miocene age (Pole 2007; Pole et al. 2008). In Miocene sediments of the Bannockburn region (near Cromwell) there are fossil leaves and fruits (see featured image) that are probably also rata or pohutakawa (Pole 1993). To the north, at St Bathans, much better preserved fossil fruits are definitely Metrosideros, and are about the same, Miocene age (Pole et al. 2008).

Fossil Metrosideros cuticle from the Miocene Gore Lignite Measures, New Zealand.

Fossil Metrosideros cuticle from the Miocene Gore Lignite Measures, New Zealand.

DNA of Rata/pohutakawa from New Zealand and throughout the Pacific has been analysed to figure out their relationships (Wright et al., 2000). The conclusion was that New Zealand seemed to be ancestral, and relatively recently. The Metrosideros in the Pacific were likely all descended from plants that came from New Zealand in the Pleistocene (the period covering the ‘ice-ages’). The surprising part of this result was more the timing – given that ratas and pohutakawas had been living in New Zealand since at least the Miocene – what stopped them from dispersing through the Pacific much earlier? The researchers hypothesised, reasonably enough, that it was something to do with the ice-ages, and most likely their effect on the pattern of winds over the New Zealand/Pacific region.

Metrosideros on Lord Howe Island (Balls Pyramid in the background).

Metrosideros on Lord Howe Island (Balls Pyramid in the background).

Detail of Metrosideros on Lord Howe Island.

Detail of Metrosideros on Lord Howe Island.

They (Wright et al,. 2000) cited studies which suggested stronger westerly winds over New Zealand, at least during the later part of the last glaciation, which possibly extended a bit further north, as well as reduced easterlies in the tropics. They noted that contemporary El Nino events can have the same effect. These, they suggested, may have been the conditions  allowing Metrosideros to finally break out of New Zealand and disperse through the tropics.

However, more recent work suggests reduced westerlies over New Zealand during the Last Glacial Maximum (e.g. Lorrey et al. 2012). Some suspect increase southerlies, but overall – still a predominant westerly flow. This is where I get lost. Stronger westerlies, weaker westerlies westerlies of any kind, would blow seeds east. Not north. This is a long way from gales blowing seeds north-east, perhaps first to the Kermadecs, then on to Tahiti (from where the tropical easterlies could disperse them to the west). So while I think Wright et al.’s finding that rata and pohutakawa have recently spread through the tropics interesting – I’m a bit puzzled by the mechanism. Note the Chatham Islands are east, and, weirdly,  they don’t have Metrosideros (Dawson 1991).

But how did Metrosideros get to New Zealand in the first place? The simplest answer is that it evolved there. But this begs the next question.  Rata and pohutakawa are members of the Myrtaceae family. Further back in time from the Miocene, Metrosideros has not been found as fossils. However, Myrtaceae pollen is well-known in New Zealand from the Oligocene, Eocene and Paleocene (Mildenhall, 1980). It’s not easy to distinguish the various types of pollen, so perhaps it  includes rata and pohutakawa, perhaps not. But back in the Late Cretaceous – the time New Zealand was becoming isolated from Australia and Antarctica, there is no Myrtaceae pollen known at all from New Zealand (or Australia for that matter). My bet is that not only were rata and pohutakawa not in New Zealand that long ago, but neither was the entire family.

It’s therefore likely that the Myrtaceae arrived in New Zealand across the sea. Blown there from Australia by westerlies? Drifting  across the water (perhaps on rafts of vegetation)?  Somehow stuck to birds? We don’t know.

Scanning Electron Microscope photo of a Miocene Metrosideros fruit from near St Bathans, New Zealand.

Scanning Electron Microscope photo of a Miocene Metrosideros fruit from near St Bathans, New Zealand.

Getting back to that Maori legend – it’s a nice story, but those first people in New Zealand are thought to have most likely come from the Cook Islands or the Austral Islands. Metrosideros grows in both of those places. So those first Maori are likely to have been familiar with its flowers,  although perhaps not with them on trees right on the beach (to them it may have been a mountain cloud forest tree).

There’s no doubt how the first Polynesians got to New Zealand – it was in a canoe. They didn’t blow through the air, or simply drift. But Pacific canoe travel is heavily dependent on wind, currents help, and of course, there’s elbow-grease. There are now good grounds for thinking that the colonisation of New Zealand was aided by particular wind patterns. During certain ‘windows’ of time, these shifted to favourable positions or strengths to get between various points in the Pacific. These patterns were related to El Nino events, which were in turn a response to climate change over the Medieval Climate Anomaly 700-800 years or so ago (Bridgman 1983; Anderson et al. 2006; Goodwin et al., 2014).

So now we have El Nino being held to account for biota getting both from New Zealand to the Pacific- and in the reverse direction! Possibly no reason why this can’t be the case. The wind patterns are complex, but I wonder if Metrosideros was a Pacific wanderer long before the Ice Ages, or Polynesians?

References

Links will take you to a downloadable pdf.

Anderson, A., Chappell, J., Gagan, M., Grove, R., 2006. Prehistoric maritime migration in the Pacific islands: an hypothesis of ENSO forcing. The Holocene 16, 1-6.

Bridgman, H.A., `1983. Could climatic change have had an influence on the Polynesian Migrations? Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 41, 193-206.

Dawson, J.W., 1991. New Zealand botany with a difference – the Chatham Islands. Tuatara 31, 23-42.

Goodwin, I.D., Browning, S.A., Anderson, A.J., 2014. Climate windows for Polynesian voyaging to New Zealand and Easter Island. PNAS 111, 14716-14721.

Lorrey, A.M., Vandergoes, M., Almond, P., Renwick, J., Stephens, T., Bostock, H., Mackintosh, A., Newnham, R., Williams, P.W., Ackerley, D., Neil, H., Fowler, A.M., 2012. Palaeocirculation across New Zealand during the last glacial maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews 36, 189-213.

Mildenhall, D.C., 1980. New Zealand Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic plant biogeography: a contribution. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 31, 197-233.

POLE, M.S. (1993) Early – Middle Miocene flora of the Manuherikia Group, New Zealand. 7. Myrtaceae, including Eucalyptus. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 23: 313-328.

POLE, M.S. (2007) Plant Macrofossil assemblages during Pliocene uplift, South Island, New Zealand. Australian Journal of Botany 55, 118-142.

POLE, M.; DAWSON, J.; DENTON, P; (2008). Fossil Myrtaceae from the Early Miocene of southern New Zealand. Australian Journal of Botany 56: 67–81.

Wright, S.D., Yong, C.G., Dawson, J.W., Whittaker, D.J., Gardner, R.C., 2000. Riding the ice age El Nino? Pacific biogeography and evolution of Metrosideros subg. Metrosideros (Myrtaceae) inferred from nuclear ribosomal DNA. PNAS 97, 4118 – 4123.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 17 – Green tea and red bean ice-cream at Bellagio’s

The green tea and red bean ice-cream (see featured image) served by Bellagio’s became an absolute favourite of mine whenever I was passing through Beijing, going to and from Mongolia. Bellagio’s is a restaurant chain and there were two outlets I would go to there. When I came to Nanjing I was thrilled to see that there is a branch not too far down the road.

Bellagio’s is a bit up-market, so I waited for a special occasion to go – Christmas Day.  I rocked up at the same time in the evening as much of the rest of Nanjing. I was given a computer-printed reservation number, and leafed through the menus as I waited in the foyer with several others. Waitresses rushed two and fro with wireless head-sets. It was a frantic but apparently well-organised operation.

Eventually my number came and I was pointed upstairs where a table had freed up. I knew exactly what I wanted – the Green Tea and Red Bean Ice-Cream of course, but preceded (P-R-E-C-E-D-E-D) by one of their spicy mains that was also an old favourite – Taiwanese Deep-Fried Bean Curd. And, since it was Christmas, how about a bowl of Black Seasame Soup?

Taiwanese Deep-Fried Bean Curd

Taiwanese Deep-Fried Bean Curd

Black Seasame Soup

Black Seasame Soup

A couple of women were ordering at the table beside me and I took note that they ordered their main and the dessert at the same time. I used all sorts of sign language to indicate I wanted the soup, then the Bean Curd, then the ice cream. My fear was that I would be part way through the main when the ice cream arrived.

Well, actually the ice cream appeared first.

Epic, epic fail. Especially given that in China the customer is always wrong and the whole restaurant has frozen, chopsticks in mid-air, wondering: ‘So the ice cream came first – what the Confucius is the foreigner worried about?’  I managed to have it sent back, and enjoyed my mains (really recommended).  The ice cream duly arrived, un-melted (on its bed of shaved ice), so I guess there hadn’t been an American Road Trip French Toast scene with it.

I’ll head back there again before I leave Nanjing, but perhaps I will research the Chinese words for “Ice Cream only after the main”, or similar, first.

The  Taiwanese Deep-Fried Bean Curd was 31 RMB, the Black Seasame Soup 21 RMB, and the Green T ea and Red Bean Ice-Cream was 32 RMB. Bellagio’s (Nanjing) is at the south end of the 1912 complex, next to Starbucks.

OutsideNanjing Street map

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 16 – Korean Leek Cake

Korean Leek Cake – yum! Never heard of it before, but it tastes as good as it looks (see featured image).

This is a Korean restaurant that’s on the edge of locally cheap,  but well worth a visit.  The Korean leek cake is sort of a cross between a quiche and a cheese-less pizza. It’s 38 rmb, but before it comes the host (a pleasant, and I presume Korean woman) brings out several extras. There’s a kind of vaguely dark and sweetish soup (the bowl on the right in the shot below). I first thought it may be a sauce, but the host speaks some English and assures me it is a soup. There’s also a couple of bowls of kimchi, and a piece of sweetish cake.

Some extras to keep you happy before the main arrives.

Some extras to keep you happy before the main arrives.

There are a bunch of things I’d like to go back and try here. There’s a good rang of bibimbap, and sushi of course. Here’s a couple of pages of the menu, helpfully both in pictures and English:

Leek Cake menu97566D

This place is right next to what was ‘Have Never Met’, which changed ownership just after I posted about it (more on that in another post).

Nanjing Street map

Location – the red dot on Zhujiang Rd.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 15 – even better chicken curry and rice

I thought I was on to a pretty good Nanjing food deal at the place where I had a chicken curry and rice, and the chick who cooked would sneak iPhone shots of me. But if I can ignore the ego-boost and focus on the price, this place gives an even better deal.  It’s a sort of up-market and on a main (Danfeng) street.

Eclectic collection of photos on the wall

Eclectic collection of photos on the wall

A big plate (featured image) of chicken, rice, with egg over it, curry and some veges, will cost 16 RMB. They used to ply you with constant free tea and soup, although I think you have to grab your own tea now. But last time I went I suddenly had a carton of some sort of juice plonked down by me in the middle of the meal. So they do make an effort to look after you. Plus there is free wifi.

They also do a vege-cheese and rice bake

They also do a vege-cheese and rice bake

I tend to surreptitiously pack the chicken bits away and give them to Ratbag the cat the next day. Ratbag has gone from being a poor, starving creature to being a bit selective in what he chooses to accept from you. Though when it comes to chicken leftover from this place, he practically takes my hand off at the wrist to get them.

Street view

Street view

Nanjing Street map

Location (red dot)

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Mongolia – crap, fire and herbal-tea

I once had a student come to me for help looking at sheep crap. It took the mystery out of what this stuff actually is. Under the microscope it’s quite a treasure-trove of little bits of plant leaf. From the various patterns you can tell what plants the sheep had been eating. The crap was some of the oldest in Queensland, so the interest wasn’t purely scatological.

Fast-forward to Mongolia. I was checking out some rocks in a valley among the foot hills of the Gobi Altai. There were three of us – me, a driver and a cook.  As the day drew to a close, I commented that what I miss is evenings around a camp-fire. The Altai is mostly arid. Along with all its rocks, any plants are often not even ankle-high. Our cooking was all done with gas. Nothing too romantic. And after dark you simply went to bed.

But our driver knew a thing or two. He directed us down to the dry creek bed. Look carefully down there, he said, and you’ll find what’s left of some shrubs that were torn up in a flood. They have a dense, woody root-system. Whack the sand out on the rocks – and we’ll have a fire! We did, my first in Mongolia.

Our camp site for the first night on this trip to the Mongolian Gobi Altai. My cook sits at our dinner table. The dry creek bed is off to the right, my swag is in the foreground, and the only vegetation in sight is a very low green herb.

Our camp site for the first night on this trip to the Mongolian Gobi Altai. My cook sits at our dinner table. The dry creek bed is off to the right, my swag is in the foreground, and the only vegetation in sight is a very low green herb.

Next day we moved to a more open area. No dry creek bed there. Most of the plants in the Mongolian semi-desert, or steppe,  are not grass, but herbs. And strongly-smelling ones at that. We were surrounded by miles and miles of this stuff, just a few centimeters high.  I made a comment like “Well, no camp-fire tonight!” But our driver still had a trick up his sleeve.

He sent us on a mission to collect dried crap.

The three of us spent a good half hour combing the surrounding area for all we could find. Back at camp we made a little pile. There were three kinds of crap. Camel, possibly cow, and one other (perhaps someone can enlighten me, I’ve forgotten what it was….). Each of these, had we looked at it under a microscope, would have been sliced up plant leaf and stem. Unlike the grass that those Australian sheep had been eating, this crap would have had something extra – the oil cells that gave the herbs, and the crap, their strong aroma, would have been all through it.

The three kinds of crap we collected.

The three kinds of crap we collected.

Damn it if each piece of that crap wasn’t a natural little fire-starter.

A fire is built up from dried crap around three fist-sized rocks (and kept in place with some bigger ones)

A fire is built up from dried crap around three fist-sized rocks (and kept in place with some bigger ones).

But there was a third trick up the driver’s sleeve – the pile of crap was built up over three first-sized rocks. The resulting fire burnt well. Meanwhile, he put some water and tea bags into our tea pot. As the fire matured, these rocks glowed red-hot. At the right moment he used our soup-ladle, quickly fished the rocks out of the fire, and dropped them into our tea pot.

Instant boiling, instant cups of tea, and with a slight herbal aroma….

 

 

 

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Ratbag – just another cat in Nanjing

The Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology has cats. There’s at least a dozen of them, if not 15 and more. Hard to tell exactly because of the clone of dirty white ones among them. Though at least one of them is (probably) unique in having David Bowie eyes.

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Some of the Institute cats lounging on the front entrance.

NIGPAS is a special part of Nanjing. It feels like a hidden corner that has been secluded from the rampant rebuilding outside the gate. It’s old building are nestled among trees, there are birds, and of course, those cats. When I arrived I was asked not to feed them. Some other professor had, and they would come inside with their “fleas”. I said I wouldn’t. The cats were under threat of removal. This had happened at another Chinese university – and the authorities were faced with a near student-rebellion. The powers that be had gotten their way. That cats disappeared, but the students had made a point that was heard more widely. At NIGPAS, there is an uneasy truce, and I think at least two people come to feed the cats, regularly. Mostly a bit after dark, the cats are waiting for their handfulls of dry kitty-bickys.

My apartment is about 15 minutes walk away. It’s a bleak 17 story block with a tiled court where the tenants park their scooters. Not long after I arrived a wretched orange cat in trouble appeared. She was near to having kittens and desperate for food. Some of the tenants started feeding her. She gave birth to five or six kittens, and they lived under the apartment block, coming and going via a narrow gap at ground level.

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The kittens in a cardboard house made by one of the tenants. A week or so later at least two, and possibly all were dead.

The mother eventually disappeared, but three remaining kittens were pampered. A variety of tenants fed them, made houses out of boxes for them. Whole families would gather in the afternoon and the kids loved to watch them play. Despite a few months of attention the kittens would never let anyone get near enough to touch them. Something deep inside told them to dash back into their bolt-hole if anyone came too close. But they grew, and so did their houses. When rain destroyed the cardboard carton houses, new ones always appeared. Finally someone found some wooden ones.

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Then, I noticed the cats had gone. One morning, after a couple of cat-free days, I spotted one in the wooden ‘house’. It didn’t move, and, puzzled, I patted it. Strange, it seemed to enjoy it. When I came back in the early evening, the cat was still there. But this time it wasn’t enjoying anything. It was clearly not well. I went up to my apartment and then popped down half an hour later. A woman had just loaded the cat into a cage and wedged this onto the floor of her scooter. She said she was a “volunteer animal carer” from our apartment – and that the cats had been poisoned. It wasn’t clear if this was deliberate or not, but the cats never strayed far and I’ve never seen a mouse or rat, so I suspect it was. She took the last cat to a vet and I never saw it or the woman again. The cat houses eventually disappeared and our apartment block returned to the same soul-less place it had been.

Winter came, with night-time temperatures dropping below -10C. There was an orangey cat who lived apart from the main mob at the Institute. Let’s call him ‘Rat Bag’. He was skin and bones and his days were spent crouching on the concrete with his head hung. If you walked past he would lift his head and follow your movement, silently scowling. How he survived, I have no idea. There were about three or four spots he would move between throughout the day, but his nights were spent on the balcony of an empty building.

As the coldest nights came on, I noticed that Rat Bag had not moved from this balcony. Perhaps three days had passed, with him simply hanging his head on the concrete in a spot totally exposed to the sub-zero winds. I taped some cardboard sheets together, wrapped a towel around them, and got a little food. Rat Bag devoured the food and allowed me to slide the pad under him. Next night I bought a hot water bottle. I popped it on the pad and Rat Bag’s reaction was to silently squeeze his head under it.

The winter dragged on, but each evening I brought a hot water bottle and in the mornings a little food. Rat Bag had made the pad his place and wasn’t quite so skinny anymore, but his nose leaked and he sneezed (Definite hand-washing after). Then, one morning,when I came, he meowed, walked toward me, and curled up at my feet. I was kind of stunned – it was a complete change of character. In all the weeks over winter, he had accepted my presence more because he couldn’t afford not to.

Winter passed to spring, but a bitter wind came one night, and next day I found Rat Bag’s pad had been shifted to a sheltered corner of the balcony. This was a good sign – someone else was looking out for him. A few days later I met a new addition to the few westerners at the Institute – an Italian. Turned out he had spotted Rat Bag, and moved his pad to the sheltered spot. We visited Rat Bag together and found someone had pinched the hot water bottle, but left its cover. I guess their needs must have been more.

On our field trip earlier in the year my colleagues had some wooden cartons hand made to ship our fossils back to Nanjing. Having done their job, the boxes were all discarded. Being a kiwi I thought this was a bit of a waste and kept one, figuring it “might come in useful later”. It did. One day I slid Rat Bag’s pad inside, and he’s cool with that (see the featured image).

Rat Bag fleshed out a bit. He still makes his rounds between his favoured spots. There’s the middle of the road. Or somewhere in a huge and growing pile of rubbish (don’t ask). And sometimes a roof. In the warmth he spreads out now, in poses that suggest he is actually enjoying life.

Did I say I promised not to feed the cats? I forget.

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Rat Bag enjoying his rubbish pile. The scowl hasn’t gone.

Equisetum fossil New Zealand Jurassic
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Horsetail Marshes of the New Zealand Jurassic

In the Jurassic, New Zealand had ‘horsetails’ (Latin: Equisetum) – an odd-looking plant , a bit like a long brush with whorls of narrow leaves and are related to ferns. Apart from their shape some of the extinct forms had a strange ‘diaphram’ attached to their stems that contained the spores (see the featured image. The wheel-like object to the right is a diaphram, and to the left is a whorl of leaves. From the Jurassic of the Otara coast). But today, New Zealand is remarkable as one of the few landmasses not to have native horsetails. Somewhere along the line they became extinct. Australia, some of the Pacific islands, and more-understandably, Antarctica, are the other areas where they are now naturally absent.

Living Equisetum, Sichuan, China

Living Equisetum, Sichuan, China. About 15 cm high.

Jurassic horsetails were reported from near Gore by Newell Arber (1917) in the one of the most detailed reports of New Zealand’s plant fossils.  Then, in 1934, Edwards reported that the Rev. J.E. Holloway found Equisetum fossils from “a roadside cutting about half a mile inland from Curio Bay”. I looked for this site back in the early 80s, and although there was a road cut with nice plant fossils at about this location, it did not have horsetails. At least, I never found any. However, I was more lucky at some locations along the Otara coastline – and on the Owaka River, a plant fossil site that Arber knew about, but never found Equisetum.

A mudstone bedding surface covered with fossil Equisetum from the Jurassic of the Owaka River, New Zealand.

A mudstone bedding surface covered with fossil Equisetum from the Jurassic of the Owaka River, New Zealand. Scale is about 50 mm across image.

Look at any reconstruction of dinosaurs, and if they are wallowing in a wetland, there are probably horsetails there. They are generally associated with wettish conditions, often with shallow standing water. The Jurassic fossil Equisetum I’ve collected are often in beds by themselves in muddy rock. This suggests they grew in mono-specific stands in quiet marshes. Probably in slightly better drained habitats, they gave way to taller vegetation, such as the Cladophlebis tree-ferns. And in even better drained situations, there was actual conifer forest, such as the Curio Bay fossil forests.

A fossil whorl of Equisetum leaves from the New Zealand Jurassic.

A fossil whorl of Equisetum leaves from the New Zealand Jurassic.

Why did horsetails become extinct in New Zealand? Good question. It surely wasn’t because it got too cold. Today Equisetum grows in the McKenzie River delta, where they are associated with permafrost. And though I think New Zealand went through a dry phase, I doubt if it got that dry.

Research by paleobotanist Carole Gee has indicated that horsetails would have been one of the preferred foods of the sauropod dinosaurs. Equisetum is also well-adapted to re-growing from underground rhizomes, if it is damaged by browsing, or especially in the case of sauropods – by the stomping of very big feet. Perhaps the extinction of dinosaurs tipped the balance against horsetails in New Zealand?

And it;s not as if they can’t grow in New Zealand today. Though we don’t have native horsetails, introduced Equisteum have now become a certified weed!

References

Links will take you to a downloadable pdf:

Arber, E.A.N., 1917. The Earlier Mesozoic Floras of New Zealand. New Zealand Geological Survey Bulletin 6, 1-80.

Edwards, W.N., 1934. Jurassic plants from New Zealand. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 10, 81-109.

Gee, C.T., 2011. Dietary options for the sauropod dinosaurs from an integrated botanical and paleobotanical perspective, in: Klein, N., Remes, K., Gee, C.T., Sander, P.M. (Eds.), Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants. Indiana University Press, pp. 34-56.

POLE, M.S. (1998). Structure of a near-polar latitude forest from the New Zealand Jurassic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoecology, Palaeoclimatology 147, 121-139.

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