The alpine areas of Mt Aspiring National Park provide the best opportunity to see this intriguing flower.
Aotearoa boasts more than 30 species of native buttercup, many of them alpine. The Latin word Ranunculus apparently means ‘little frog’ and relates to the alpine wetland habitat that these plants enjoy.
Some have the butter-yellow colour you would expect from the name, while others have white flowers. Most famous of all is, of course, the Mount Cook buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii), formerly misnamed as the Mount Cook lily. With its large, bowl-like leaves and showy white flowers on high stalks, it’s certainly the most conspicuous of our native alpine buttercups.
Another striking specimen is the cut-leaved mountain buttercup (Ranunculus buchananii). It has feathery green leaves, clustered in bunches, and the flowers are a neat white circle, with a green centre and yellow rim. Its name commemorates New Zealand botanist John Buchanan (1819-1898).
The range of the cut-leaved mountain buttercup is restricted to high alpine fell-fields and snow bank areas in the Southern Alps between south Westland and Fiordland. Here are some popular tramping areas where you can see the flower during your summer trips.
1. Wye Creek, The Remarkables
The head of Wye Creek is an enchanting place; an area of tarns and tussock in moderate terrain below the more daunting pinnacles of The Remarkables. The cut-leaved mountain buttercup is just one of dozens of alpine plants that abound in the head of the valley. Fastest access is from The Remarkables ski field road, with a longer route possible from Lake Wakatipu up the
Wye Creek Track.
2. Gillespie Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park
This alpine saddle is crossed by trampers on the 4-5 day Young-Wilkin circuit. During early summer, a profusion of alpine flowers bloom on the saddle’s flanks, including the cut-leaved mountain buttercup.
3. Dragonfly Peak, Mt Aspiring National Park
This modest peak, accessible from Albert Burn Saddle, above the Bledisloe Gorge track in the East Matukituki Valley, is another location where the cut-leaved mountain buttercup finds home.
4. Cascade Saddle, Mt Aspiring National Park
The tarn-strewn ledge known as Cascade Saddle is as famed for its diversity of alpine plants as it is for its view of Mt Aspiring. It’s reached from the steep track up from the West Matukituki Valley, or as a side-trip from the Rees-Dart Track. Despite the benign terrain of the saddle, where cut-leaved mountain buttercup proliferates, both approaches require care, particularly from the steep Matukituki side.
5. Gertrude Saddle, Fiordland National Park
This saddle offers superb views towards Milford Sound, in the heart of the Darran Mountains, and is accessible on a route beginning from Milford Sound Highway near Homer Hut. Like Cascade Saddle, Gertrude Saddle is not to be underestimated, and should be avoided when avalanches pose a risk.