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All about divaricating plants...

The zig-zag or divaricating branch form of muehlenbeckia astonii
The zig-zag or divaricating branch form of muehlenbeckia astonii

New Zealand has a number of species of shrubs and small trees that have densely laced, wirey stems, that are spread apart at a wide angle - they look like they are growing in a zig-zag pattern. While New Zealand is not unique in this, we do have more species that have this habit than anywhere else in the world.
There are two theories on why some NZ plants are divaricating: one is that it was to avoid browsing moa; the other theory is that this shape suited a icy, dry, windy environment from a previous ice age. According to The Encyclopedia of New Zealand website Te Ara ( www.teara.govt.nz) when emus and ostriches were offered these plants in experiments, they got so little nourishment out of them that they would have died of starvation. So that supports the idea that divarication was an adaptation by the plant to deter grazing birds.
The second theory about climate has some merit too - the tangled branches may serve as both a windbreak and frost screen and reduce water loss from the plant. The plant creates a kind of micro-climate within its dense branches which helps protect it from adverse weather. They are generally easy care and don't require a lot of maintenance aside from the occasional light prune to keep them tidy. Which ever theory is true, they look stunning in our gardens, especially if planted as a contrast next to something like griselinia with its larger glossy green leaves.
Divaricating plants are one of our favourites at Groundcover Landscaping - see below for a list of some of the more common ones:
Next time you see one of these plants, take a closer look. Check out our Plant Database for help in identifying them. They are often overlooked for other showier plants, but we think they are deserving of a place in a modern Kiwi garden!