Why botany matters: Peter DeLange

Department of Conservation —  07/07/2017

We had a chat with Peter DeLange, who, this year, won the Loder Cup for his outstanding achievements in flora conservation. We find out a bit about him and his work. 

Peter de Lange on Mangere island 060214

Peter de Lange on Mangere island

I’m Peter DeLange, a Principal Science Advisor with the Northern Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit, Science & Policy Group for DOC. In my role I mostly work to make sure that DOC’s science needs mesh with those of other researchers so we can achieve a common purpose.

I also sit on various technical advisory groups and committees where I provide science advice. I have a role in science mentorship, working with DOC staff to help them realise their science goals, and outside DOC as a student supervisor. I work with Universities, Polytechnics, Museums and internationally with a range of researchers on a variety of mostly botanical (plant) matters.

Can you tell us a bit about your work and study history?

I am a Waikato lad. Born and educated at Hamilton – though I regard South Kawhia as my tūrangawaewae as it was there that my love of nature was nurtured. Prior to working for DOC I studied at the University of Waikato.

I have worked for DOC since 1990 when I was appointed as the Threatened Plant Scientist – there was only one position.. Over the years I have worked my way up to my current senior science role.

Ruapehu alpine flush survey, Feb 2012. Peter de Lange.

Peter amongst Celmisia incana plants in Upper Makatote

After publishing over 160 papers in peer-reviewed journals and 16 books, I’ve realised that I have now reached that stage in my life where I have too much to publish and not enough time to do so!

I really enjoy taxonomy (the science of naming, describing and classifying living things).. I have described (either by myself or in collaboration) over 70 new species or subspecies of ferns and flowering plants not only in New Zealand but also from Norfolk Island (Achyranthes margaretarum) and even South Africa (Clivia robusta). Over the last ten years I have switched to collecting bryophytes (liverworts, hornworts and mosses) and working more with lichens. Indeed, I am currently in the process of describing a new lichen from the Chatham Islands.

Peter eradicating pine western end Surville Cliffs 16112010-4

Peter eradicating pine on the Surville Cliffs

What’s your favourite plant?

It changes daily. I have a list of a few I often think about – Adams’ Mistletoe (Trilepidea adamsii) because it was to be our first well documented extinct plant (I have spoken to a range of people who saw it alive – most of them now dead) and I still feel intense anger that this extinction ever happened. This extinction could have been and should have been prevented.

Peter de Lange holding up Hymenophyllum specimen from Prospect Peak 17 May 2011

Peter holding up a specimen of Trichomanes caudatum from Prospect Peak, Raoul Island

I also like Holloway’s Crystalwort (Atriplex hollowayi) – another threatened plant (one of our few native annuals and our only endemic strandline plant) which I named after the late John Holloway one of my Directors, and one of the very best people I ever knew – he got the best out of me and its so sad he was taken so early. I am also proud to have honored my friend Phil Knightbridge who also died too early, with a liverwort Frullania knightbridgei which we (Phils former flatmate Dr Matt von Konrat and I) named for him so that his children would grow to see the aroha and respect we had for him.

Let’s end with Ackama nubicola a tree found by accident in 2000 when a DOC contract worker Karen Riddell was sheltering under it in a Hail Storm in the Waima Forest near Hokianga. Her natural curiosity as to what the tree was resulted in the discovery of a completely new species, still only known from the general area where she found it. I find her discovery all the more significant in that it was of a big tree (up to 12 m tall) that grows on the side of a very popular walking track and former route between the Hokianga and Kaipara – traveled by myriad botanists, all, ironically looking for ‘something new’.

What are your plans going forward?

There is so much to do and the world is hardly boring. I have developed an interest in working closely with iwi to unravel the science behind their natural world.

Peter on summit of Mangatea Bluff 7 July 2010

Peter on the summit of Mangatea Bluff, Rarotonga

I have always had a deep interest in indigenous views on the natural world, and feel blessed to be able to do this and stay true to my science Recently I have been introduced to the concept ‘ako’ where we all learn from each other, together, constructively. My big shift is back to the very roots of conservation, working with people, because without people caring we are not going to get very far with the environmental issues we face.


Oh and yes I have a few hundred more papers to write……….


3 responses to Why botany matters: Peter DeLange


    Great article and I enjoy listening to radio interviews Peter does periodically too.

    Julie Percival 07/07/2017 at 9:12 am

    Great post, thanks for sharing your love of botany. Keep up the great work!