The creatures and plants of The Garden are based on the real and the imaginary. Many of the real animals and plants live in different parts of the world and would never be found all together in the same place naturally. The Garden is just special.
Explore the images below to see what the creatures featured in our illustrations look like in real life and learn about them.
Kindly supported by the Mazda Foundation.
The Lotus is based on a real plant, the sacred lotus, famous not only for its pretty flower held high up out of the water but also for its seeds and tubers/roots, which are grown for food. A seed from a sacred lotus thought to be 1300 years old actually germinated in 1993, so the lotus is indeed an amazing plant!
The Snowbird is not a real bird, but this handsome fellow – with his curved beak and strong talons – looks like he could be related to eagles. Aotearoa used to have its own eagle, thought to be the largest eagle to have ever existed, and the legend of Pouākai from Māori mythology talks of this gigantic bird of prey, but sadly the bird (also known as Haast’s eagle) is extinct.
Little Frog is an Archey’s frog (pepeketua), which is only found in Aotearoa New Zealand. This critically endangered, tiny frog is one of the rarest in the world. Found exclusively in the Coromandel Peninsula and the Whareorino Forest, near Te Kūiti, it makes its home under damp vegetation. This little frog cannot hear as it has no eardrums – and it does not have a croak!
Not Little Parrot is a kākāpō, the world’s largest parrot, and critically endangered. Unique to Aotearoa, kākāpō are nocturnal and cannot fly but these big, friendly green birds are very good climbers and have a wonderful boom-like call that can be heard over great distances.
Little Barrier Island giant wētā (wētāpunga) are the heaviest insects in the world and can look a little scary with their large, spiny legs and waving antennae. But just remember they are our very own giant crickets, and only live in New Zealand, nowhere else – so they’re pretty special!
Rimu Berry (huarangi) are the red berries on the branch Not Little Parrot is holding. The fruit from the rimu tree has been found to be very important to kākāpo as a food that helps them in their breeding season. When there are plenty of berries to eat, there are more eggs laid.
Monarch butterflies in North America have to migrate over large distances to avoid cold weather (some fly over 4000 kilometres on their great migration; that is like flying from Stewart Island at the very bottom of New Zealand to Cape Reinga at the very top three times!). The New Zealand monarch (kahuku) living in our more temperate climate does not have to do this great migration.
Sea whip coral comes in all sorts of colours and looks like a beautiful swaying plant underwater – but the sea whip is not a plant at all! It is actually a colony of tiny animals, invertebrates called polyps, which filter-feed on drifting plankton in their ocean home.
Lion’s mane jellyfish (petipeti) gets its wonderful name from the long, billowing tentacles it trails beneath it, which look very much like a lion’s mane. These jellyfish come in all different sizes, with some becoming as large as 2 metres wide – with tentacles as long as 30 metres!
The Vines with Hearts are heartleaf philodendron, one of many vines (aka) that have heart-shaped leaves. This particular one, which has the botanical name Philodendron scandens, is fast growing, and the dark green leaves sprout from long stems that twist and twine. It is easy to grow in your own home, so you can have a little bit of The Garden at your place.
The blue duck (whio/ko whio whio) is another special creature only found in Aotearoa. Whio like to live near fast-moving, clean rivers. Like many of our endemic animals, increasing changes to their environment and the stress of predators such as stoats are making it hard for these whistling ducks to survive.
The tuatara is our largest reptile and known as our very own rare ‘living fossil’. It is a unique reptile, belonging to its very own ‘order’ of reptilian species, Rhynchocephalia. The ancestors of the tuatara are believed to have been around when dinosaurs walked the earth!
The Muriwai gecko has only recently been discovered, so not very much is known about it! A small nocturnal lizard, so far it has only been found from Muriwai Beach north to South Kaipara Heads, Oaia Island and Woodhill Forest, West Auckland.