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  • New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands support a diverse and unique flora. Of particular interest are the megaherbs. These are plants with large leaves and colourful floral displays – completely different from their mainland counterparts. There are different ideas about why these plants have evolved in this way. Some suggest that having large leaves is an adaptive response to the climatic conditions found on the islands – cool, cloudy and humid. The flowers with their bright colours are adapted to utilise the weak sunlight and short summer season as well as attracting the pollinators.

    Rights: Cherie Fenemor, Sir Peter Blake Trust

    Megaherb Anisotome latifolia

    This image shows the megaherb Anisotome latifolia. They are only found on the islands of the Subantarctic, including Auckland, Campbell, Antipdes, Snares and Macquarie Islands.

    In this activity, students use megaherb image cards to group species of megaherbs according to their physical structures (leaf shape, leaf size, flower structure and flower colour). The purpose is to encourage students to look more closely at plant structures and to introduce them to methods of classification. It encourages students to take a closer look at the physical structures of megaherbs and to devise their own system for classifying them.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • explain what general classification is and why it is important
    • experience devising and revising their own classification system
    • better understand why scientists do not always agree and why species may be reclassified as new information comes to light.

    Nature of science

    Scientific knowledge may change with the discovery of new techniques and new information. Scientists commonly debate new information, arrive at new understandings, and as a result, the classification of organisms can change. For example, recent developments in DNA technologies have resulted in the reclassification of some species.

    Download the pdf file (see link below) for:

    • introduction/background notes
    • what you need
    • what to do
    • discussion questions
    • extension idea.

    Activity idea

    In the Develop a classification system, students work in small groups and develop their own classification system for a number of marine organisms.

    Explore botany further

    The article Botany and botanists explores botany, the scientific study of plants. This field of study encompasses terrestrial, freshwater and ocean plants as well as algae and some non-plants like fungi.


    This article’s main contributor was Cherie Fenemor from Freyberg High School, who joined the Young Blake Expedition to the Subantarctic as the Sir Peter Blake Trust Educator in February 2016.

    Useful link

    In memory of Sir Peter Blake, the BLAKE Trust was established. This Trust supports a wide range of programmes that encourage environmental awareness and action, and leadership development. Sir Peter was one of New Zealand's best known sailors and explorers.

    In this blog article from Te Papa Te Papa Botany Curator Heidi Meudt shows some examples of megaherbs she saw on the Strannik 2023 Auckland Island Expedition, and discusses what makes them so special.

    Rights: Sir Peter Blake Trust

    Sir Peter Blake Trust logo

      Published 1 September 2016 Referencing Hub articles
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