Inflorescence - Dr. Hamish Foote & Dr. Dan Blanchon

WORDS Dr. Hamish Foote & Dr. Dan Blanchon
PAINTINGS Dr. Hamish Foote

How can still life painting explore the traditional notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the relationship between indigenous and exotic species? It is through the relationship between culture and nature that places are made. As such our contemporary sense of place in New Zealand has been heavily influenced by the creation of Neo-European environments abetted by ongoing intervention1.  This process of becoming is fluid and dynamic and in New Zealand it has resulted in a place where exotic flora and fauna abound. 

The creation of a sense of place – introductions of foreign flora and fauna. 
From the beginning of New Zealand’s brief European history there has been a procession or perhaps more accurately a flood of introduced flora and fauna. Charles Darwin (1773-1858) observed, 

At Pahia it was quite pleasing to behold the English flowers in the gardens before the houses…honeysuckle, jasmine…On an adjoining slope fine crops of barley and wheat…fields of potato and clover…every fruit and vegetable which England produces…gorse for fences, and English oaks2.

As a result of this and a temperate climate, New Zealand is now one of the weediest countries in the World. As Darwin relates:

“In many places I noticed several sorts of weeds, which, like the rats, I was forced to own as countrymen. A leek has overrun whole districts, and will prove very troublesome…
The common dock is also widely disseminated”.3

In the 1860s acclimatisation societies were formed, importing and liberating a multitude of animal species for shooting, food, or as reminders of “home”4. Many species failed to naturalise, including partridges, grouse, ptarmigan, nightingales, robins and foxes.  
Most species, however, did successfully establish, including red deer, fallow deer, possums, wallabies, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, mallard ducks, canada geese, most of which became pests to agriculture, horticulture or the natural environment. Early settlers introduced familiar plants; most of these species were accidental introductions, but many were deliberately introduced as horticultural plants, with a smaller number introduced as pasture species5. On average, one plant species has naturalised in Auckland every 88 days in the time period 1870-19705. Currently, 2536 naturalised plants are listed for New Zealand, of which 300-500 are considered to be “serious environmental weeds”6. There are at least 24,744 non-native plant species in New Zealand, but this number is likely to be an underestimate7.  Invasive plant species have a range of effects on the environment, particularly competition with native species reducing biodiversity, providing alternate hosts for pests and diseases, reduction in water quality, causing erosion and flooding, decreasing land access and negative human and animal health effects8.

The effects of invasive species on our landscapes are now managed nationally by the Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation and councils under several pieces of legislation, but mainly the Biosecurity Act 19939. Efforts are made to prevent incursions by new invasive species at the border and to eradicate or control those pest species already in the country.  A number of initiatives are underway to manage pests, including the National Pest Plant Accord (NPPA)10, an agreement between the horticulture industries and biosecurity agencies to ban the worst invasive plants from sale and distribution.  The Wildlife Act 195311 lists a range of mainly vertebrate animal species that are deliberately not protected or are declared noxious, allowing their control. 

Fine art practice has always provided a means for communicating a sense of place
In our own history there are the ancient rock drawings of South Canterbury that depict the now extinct species of moa and giant eagle that made such an impact on our early residents12. To facilitate the process of New Zealand’s colonisation by Europe, painting was enlisted to depict a South Pacific haven complete on occasions with depictions of the ‘noble savage’. Fine art practice was also harnessed by the Natural Sciences during the 18th and 19th century voyages of discovery. The legendary equine painter George Stubbs (1724-1806) gave Europe the first glimpse of the Australian kangaroo with his 1772 painting The Kongouro from New Holland. Interestingly Stubbs had not seen a kangaroo in the flesh. He worked from the spoken accounts of those who had, as well as a preserved kangaroo skin, which he inflated13

Closer to home writers and artists alike demonstrate the currency of these issues. 
Ngā Uruora, the Groves of Life and Theatre Country14 by Geoff Park and in the theatre, Dr Buller’s Birds by Nick Drake are examples. In the art world there has been a procession of exhibitions concerned with the implications of exotic and indigenous species mingling. Pages from the Book of Bird Song by Warren Viscoe and The Odyssey of Captain Cook by Marian Maguire are two notable examples.

How art practice has represented the place created by invasive species
The issue of invasive species in particular has received attention by artists who have engaged and sought to raise awareness of this by-product of globalisation. The Weeds Drawing Project15 curated by Manukau School of Visual Arts academics Grant Thompson and Frances Hansen is one such example. The work of contemporary European artist Madeline Von Foerster such as Invasive Species II exhibited at the Strychnin Gallery in Berlin 2008 is another. In Von Foerster’s own words the collision of culture and nature are emphasized,

Humanity’s relationship with nature provides an impassioned narrative, with such topics as deforestation and human-caused extinction sounding a recurring thematic knell…the artworks could be described as “living” still-lifes…but on a deeper level, they are visual altars for our imperiled natural world16.

The work of both graphic artists and photographers has also been harnessed, as a social marketing tool, to raise awareness and alter behaviour. In New Zealand the MPI in an attempt to control the invasive freshwater alga didymo initiated in 2011 an education campaign, which relies heavily on the visual medium. The success of this approach is reflected in the Ministries findings, the main things that convinced people to make the change were: seeing a poster (51%) or a brochure (48%)17.  

Theories and opinions regarding our sense of place are tested and debated and as such, definitions are contestable and fluid as Darwin’s aforementioned observations attest. Species of flora and fauna move between the categories of good and evil as globalisation ensures the intermingling of ecologies e.g.  gorse in the context of England was a benign and practical presence. Relocated to New Zealand and a warm temperate climate however and the species now raises the ire of farmers, and heads the list of noxious weeds in this country. Partly as a result of this, the generalisation that natives are good and exotics are evil contributes to, and influences our, contemporary sense of place.  Society’s perception of good and evil species has received attention by sociologists, for example,

Sociozoological systems ranks them according to how well they seem to “fit in” and play the roles they are expected to play in society...Good animals have high moral status because they willingly accept their subordinate place in society…however bad animals have a low moral status because their subordinate place is unclear or because they no longer remain quietly out of sight and distant from people18

The same authors point out that we construct images of good and evil, friend and foe, desirable and undesirable, respectable and disreputable, and a myriad of other morally laden dichotomies18.

When a national icon such as the Kauri tree is threatened as in the case of Kauri dieback a new urgency arises. The gravity of this situation has prompted Tangata Whenua, the Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation and an assortment of councils to hastily establish the Keep Kauri Standing organisation. The use of powerful imagery as an attention grabbing, communication and awareness-raising tool is a key component in their attempt to avert disaster. The use of painting as in the case of this project recognises and capitalises on the power of imagery as a dynamic way of engaging and raising awareness. 
It is hoped that the exhibition and publication of the images presented in this paper, along with the accompanying writing will not only support the Kauri dieback campaign but also serve to raise awareness regarding the precarious nature of New Zealand’s ecology. There is the potential to draw attention to the ramifications of human enterprise on a fragile delicately balanced world. While we may rejoice in cultural diversity and potential hybrid vigour the investigation highlights what it is we may lose through the mingling of the exotic with the indigenous.

Case Studies
In the author’s own fine art practice colonisation and the relationship between species has been a long-term preoccupation. The 2002 exhibition of paintings Biota focused on the practice of introducing exotic species in particular the activities of Sir George Grey (1812- 1898) on Kawau Island. Not all of Grey’s introductions went as planned. Many species, the zebra for example, failed to acclimatize and perished whilst the wallaby , possum and others went on to become pests. In the paintings comprising the Biota series and also those of the Inflorescence investigation there are repeated visual references to the aforementioned historical works by the likes of Stubbs. This appropriation is intended to reinforce the notion of colonization and also hint at the subjectivity of the European eye. The bias of the colonial gaze is revealed in many of the early depictions of New Zealand, which bare an uncanny resemblance to European landscapes of the day.

The Paintings
The five paintings, that form part of this investigation, focus on colonisation, in particular the intersection of exotic and native species. A number of specific relationships, some parasitic others commensalistic or mutualistic are depicted in order to tease out this notion of friend or foe. What is revealed are a number of unexpected and paradoxical relationships that challenge traditional assumptions of good and evil.

The inclusion of flowers in a domestic setting is intended to indicate the English coloniser domiciled in New Zealand.  The background tongue and groove panelling is typical of 18th century interiors whilst Willow Pattern was the quintessential crockery of the Victorian era. Polished oak or mahogany furniture reinforces this theme. 

A typical English style posy or ‘nose gay’ in colonial setting. The arrangement however challenges the normative domestic spectacle by virtue of the inclusion of species either categorised as noxious weeds or so abundant to be deemed common.  The work depicts agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis), an invasive plant of bluffs and coastal areas19, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), tree lupin (Lupinus arboreus), a native of California, now invasive in New Zealand and Chile20, Dietes, bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), Muehlenbeckia and assorted grasses, which were collected from the environs of Bethells Beach (Te Henga) on Auckland’s West coast. The radical diversity of these species, some native and others exotic, illustrates how ideal environmental conditions, can contribute to our sense of Auckland as a place.  

As the title infers this work features a parasitic relationship: the exotic Asian paper wasp (Polistes chinensis antennalis) is known to prey upon a range of native invertebrates, including the common copper butterfly (Lycaena salustius), and the monarch butterfly caterpillar (Danaus plexipus)21. The monarch butterfly is technically native, but is thought to have self-colonised New Zealand, perhaps within the last 170 years22,23. The Asian paper wasp was first recorded in New Zealand in 197924, and has quickly become widespread in northern New Zealand and the top of the South Island21. This species also has a beneficial effect, its main food source being the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae)21, a pest of horticultural crops in the brassica family and of native brassica species such as the endangered Cook’s scurvygrass (Lepidium oleraceum)25. The contrast between the archetypal New Zealand bracken and an English vase refers to the ‘strangeness’ inherent in the intersection between cultures.

The focus of this work is the mutualistic relationship between two exotic species: the bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) and red clover (Trifolium pratense). Several species of bumblebees were introduced from the United Kingdom into New Zealand in the late 1800’s for the pollination of the fodder crop T. pratense.  Four species, including B. ruderatus, are still present in New Zealand, and are known to almost exclusively pollinate non-native plant species, including some noxious weeds26. One species, Bombus terrestris, has been suggested as having possibly contributed to the spread of an invasive plant, agapanthus in Tasmania27. Several bumblebee species, including B. ruderatus, are in decline in the United Kingdom, and it has been suggested that it may be possible to reintroduce one or more species still found in New Zealand26.

The flower arrangement also includes an assortment of other roadside weeds such as tree lupin, wild carrot (Daucus carota) and assorted grasses.  The tree lupin, a native of California, is now invasive in New Zealand and Chile20, and like other legumes, is a nitrogen fixer28, which can add nitrogen to usually low-nitrogen ecosystems, potentially adding to water pollution29 or even facilitating invasion by invasive grass species30. As such this work along with Collection provides an overview of Auckland’s unique ecology, an ecology, which prompted Landcare Research scientists to call Auckland “the weediest city in the world”. 
As with the Willow Pattern china the vase dates from the late 18th century. 

The relationship between the endemic giant weta (Deinacrida mahoenui) and the noxious weed gorse (Ulex europaeus) is the main focus of this image. The latter is the primary habitat and food source for the endangered Mahoenui giant weta, formerly a tree-dwelling species of native forest31, but they now largely inhabit gorse bushes.  The gorse plants at Mahoenui are now strictly protected, which is unusual for this invasive plant species, which is usually controlled using herbicides, fire, grazing, or more recently a range of biological control agents32. Dense prickly gorse foliage is often the only protection for weta from predatory mammals present at the site33. The depiction of gorse reinforces the overarching theme of colonisation, in particular the creation of Neo-European landscapes by colonial immigrants, to assuage loneliness. 

Also featured are Muehlenbeckia and flax both of which, as with gorse, provide habitat for giant weta – in this instance D. rugosa34. The inclusion of the common copper butterfly and its food plant the aforementioned Muehlenbeckia further reinforces the notion of close relationships between species.  The larvae of the endemic common copper butterfly feed on a range of endemic Muehlenbeckia species, but interestingly will preferentially feed on Fagopyrum esculentum, an exotic plant used in viticulture to promote biological control35.

This image concerns the relationship between the feral pig and NZ kauri (Agathis australis) in particular the implication that the former may play a role in the spread of the pathogen, which causes kauri dieback36. The conservationist Stephen King succinctly defines the potential ramifications of this infestation and in turn the impact on our sense of place,

Kauri are one of the largest rainforest trees on earth and they are to New Zealand what the pyramids are to Egypt and Stonehenge and cathedrals are to England. They’re worth more than tourism; it’s about our identity37.

The Berkshire and Large Black breeds of pig (Sus scrofa) depicted, are English domestic breeds, corresponding to a common view that the first pigs released in New Zealand came from there. Feral pigs in the South Island in particular are derived from 14 breeds from Polynesia, Europe and Asia, nine of which were English breeds and it is likely that the pigs released by Captain Cook were of Polynesian and Eurasian origin38 

Bringing together the exotic and the native in the same place creates a surprising ambiguity of relationships 
What makes the character of our place so unique and noteworthy is the remarkable and unusual biota. The case studies give us a sense of this. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the surprising ambiguity within many of the relationships between species of flora and fauna. The protagonists in these fascinating relationships alter and shift between the categories of good and evil. Four of the images explore this ambiguity.

The image Predation focuses on the seemingly malevolent exotic Asian paper wasp preying on the iconic monarch butterfly. Paradoxically this particular wasp assumes the role of benevolent saviour whilst preying on, what is considered to be a real or potential threat to New Zealand’s cultivated and native brassica plants, the cabbage white butterfly21.

The focus of the image Pollination is the introduction of species and on occasion their failure to achieve the anticipated outcome. As previously stated a number of bumblebee species were introduced with the specific expectation that they would pollinate pasture species such as red clover. In the case of the latter the most successful coloniser in Auckland, B. terrestris, is considered to obstruct pollination, robbing the flowers. The bee depicted on the other hand, B. ruderatus with the evolutionary refinement of a long tongue, successfully performs the function39.

Habitation dwells on the unlikely collaboration between the aforementioned exotic  ‘bad’ species Gorse and the ancient but now endangered endemic ‘good’ species D. mahoenui
In this instance preconceptions concerning value are challenged as the former provides an ideal habitat and food source for the latter. This notion that a vilified species, gorse, may in actual fact perform a valuable ecological function in New Zealand is perhaps controversial. The relationship could by default be considered ‘obliquely’ mutualistic as the provision of habitat for an endangered endemic species has resulted in ‘Protected’ status for gorse in Mahoenui31.

The inclusion of the native common copper butterfly in this work adds another layer to the paradox. The native Muehlenbeckia also depicted is a recognised food source but curiously the common copper prefers the exotic species Fagopyrum esculentum35.

Finally, Ramification concentrates on the perilous outcome of the intersection between exotics and natives. Feral pigs, potentially spread the invasive Phytophthora attacking kauri. This topical issue demonstrates an iconic native being killed by what is probably an exotic disease, which is perhaps spread by the exotic pig34.

Control of invasive species can be hindered at times by public resistance to control efforts, for a range of reasons including fear of pesticides, animal welfare issues and viewing the organism as a resource40. Another difficulty is in defining what is ‘non-native’ and convincing the general public the non-native organism requires control.  In New Zealand defining something as ‘non-native’ is perhaps easier than continental countries and/or those with a long history of human occupation. Harmfulness of the species and human responsibility for its spread can be considered more important than its ‘non-nativeness’. There are different perspectives on how invasive species are viewed and “responses to them will depend on the lens through which we are looking”41.

Good vs. evil depends on place 
Our sense of good versus evil depends on place as the distribution of gorse so aptly illustrates. Along with gorse in Auckland there are many other weeds. As we drive to Bethell’s beach the road through native bush is garlanded with a myriad of exotic weed flowers such as those depicted in Pollination. The Bethell’s landscape is also weedy as the image Collection reveals. The weeds in these works define place. 

The monarch is also a special contributor to the New Zealand experience. The ambiguity and strangeness of relationships is again evident as this species, relatively recently self-introduced22 but technically native, is being attacked by a human introduced wasp. 
The relationship between the exotic pig and kauri, in particular the proposition that the former may play role in the latter’s demise36 is perhaps one of the most emotive of suspected detrimental relationships. The spectre of Kauri dieback has highlighted the precariousness of existence and the irreplaceable contribution species make to our sense of place. 

Occasionally this process of colonisation has possible unexpected benefits. Some of the bumblebee species so quintessentially British, are now endangered there. The New Zealand population is a reserve that may permit the reintroduction of bumblebees to their country of origin – a coming home of sorts.

This notion of good and evil is reflected in the dichotomy of biodiversity and biosecurity. What is biodiversity and ‘good’ in one place easily becomes a biosecurity issue and therefore ‘evil’ in another.  This exchange works in both directions. Our treasured pohutukawa is an invasive species in South Africa42 and
interestingly, one species of Muehlenbeckia, M. complexa, is an invasive plant species of California’s northern coast43.

There is the perception that non-native species have a detrimental impact on the character of a place, with some suggesting that “places can lose their sort of cultural identity”40
It would seem on examination of the assembled paintings that a black and white assessment of the positive or negative implications of colonisation is difficult if not impossible to achieve. A steady acceleration of the process whereby the exotic and the indigenous mingle is perhaps inevitable. It is therefore imperative that we do our utmost to prevent new invasive species from arriving and manage the impact of those already here, while allowing ourselves to celebrate cultural diversity and the hybrid vigour that defines our place.

The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge funding from the Faculty of Creative Industries and Business Research Fund. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript and also Trina Smith and Sally Tagg for technical support. 

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