White Alpine Flowers and Butterflies
Darwin came to New Zealand – the far north – but he didn’t stay long and he didn’t like it. I’m trying to imagine what he may have experienced had he wandered to the South Island and the rugged mountains of the Southern Alps. Unlike the Andes in South America, he would have observed that these were very young mountains, perhaps 5 to 7 million years old. But I think what he would have noticed most – at least it was what I noticed most when I tried to put myself in his shoes – would have been the preponderance of white flowers and butterflies.
And I started to ask myself, “Gee, forget what Darwin would have made of it, what do you make of it?” My answer is that I don’t know. It has been said that the white flowers of New Zealand’s alpine zone represent early stages of adaptation in a new environment. In other words, white flowers are used by plants to attract a general range of pollinators; implying there has not yet been time to develop the mutual relationships and targetted attractants, such as brightly coloured petals, that characterize plants that use specific pollinators.
Somehow that doesn’t seem very convincing. The plants and butterflies are younger than the mountains for sure, but they’ve been there for one or two million years: that’s a lot of time for change. If readers have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.