Megaherbs are a group of herbaceous perennial wildflowers growing in the New Zealand sub-antarctic islands. They are characterised by their great size, with huge leaves and very large and often unusually-coloured flowers, which have developed as an adaptation to the harsh weather conditions on the islands.
Livestock introduced to the islands in the 19th century severely reduced the megaherb population, to such an extent that by the late 20th century the megaherbs were threatened with extinction. Since the removal of the livestock in 1993, the megaherbs have regenerated successfully and dramatically. They have been described as "the outstanding botanical experience of New Zealand".
Megaherbs occur on many of the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand, predominantly on the Snares island group, the Auckland Islands and the Campbell Island group. Here these extraordinary plants evolved in response to the climatological and soil conditions and the lack of herbivorous predators on the islands. The weather is largely wet, cold and extremely windy; the soil peaty, acidic and impoverished. The almost continual cloud-cover means that the islands experience low light levels.
The term 'megaherb' was first used by Sir James Clark Ross during his 1839 – 1843 Antarctic expedition. Sir Joseph Hooker, the expedition’s botanist, wrote that the megaherbs produced "a floral display second to none outside the tropics".
Although small in size when compared to plants found in the tropics, megaherbs are notable because their size is far greater than other herbaceous perennials found growing in the sub-Antarctic islands: generally the harsh weather and soil conditions experienced there have a stunting effect on plants.
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