Know your patch

Southland is home to a diverse range of habitat types, ranging from forests to wetlands and dunes. We are lucky enough to have coastal sand dune forests - one of the rarest forest types left in New Zealand - here on our doorstep in Otatara. However, many of our natural areas exist in isolation as fragments, due to land clearance in our region. Find out about the different habitat types we have in Southland, where they can be found and what grows best in each. There are a range of common native plants that grow in Southland - to help you identify them and their flowers, seeds and growth characteristics we have created cards to assist you - download the Plant ID cards here.

Habitat types

There are five main habitat types in Southland:


Mature forest at Forest Hill.Mature forest at Forest Hill.The forests of the Southland Plains and Bluff-Omaui have undergone significant change over the last 150 years or so. Just 10% of the forest cover that was present on the Southland Plains in 1865 remains today. Small forest remnants are referred to as ‘fragments’ and play a crucial role in the long-term survival of the species they contain.

It’s believed that the original Pre-Maori vegetation of the Southland Plains was dominated by podocarp (native conifer) forest, mainly matai, kahikatea and mixed podocarp. Other forest types that would have been present include:

  • Kowhai-ribbonwood forest – along river margins.
  • Totara forest – in the Otatara/Sandy Point-Oreti Beach area.
  • Silver beech forest – along the Mataura River.
  • Mixed broadleaf (podocarp) and rata-kamahi forest – on the limestone hills.

Find out about forest remnants in Southland, where they can be found and what you can grow to restore your fragment.


Coastal shrubland at Bluff.Coastal shrubland at Bluff.Many people think of shrublands – or ‘scrub’ as it is more commonly known - as a nuisance. However, shrublands plays a valuable role in our landscape. Areas of shrubland are home to many native plants and animals, and in many areas they form ‘corridors’ between other areas of natural vegetation. Some areas of shrubland act as a nursery for regenerating forest. Other areas play an important role in buffering native forests or wetlands.

Shrublands, or areas of ‘scrub’, fall into two main types:

  • Short-lived (temporary) shrublands – a transitional phase before forest trees take over
  • Long-lived (persistent) shrublands – in areas where forest will never dominate.

Find out more about shrublands in Southland.

Wetlands and streams

Wetlands are one of the most valuable, yet vulnerable ecosystems in the world. Southland has many significant wetland areas, some of which are internationally important. Wetlands come in many shapes and sizes, and can occur in a variety of environments, such as coastal lagoons and estuaries, flood plains and valley floors and alpine areas. Once considered wastelands, wetlands are now recognized for the vital role they play in our environment.

Find out more about wetlands and streams, why we need to look after them and how you can do your bit.

Coastal vegetation

Coastal shrubland at Bluff.Coastal shrubland at Bluff.Coastal areas in Southland are home to plants specially adapted to harsh conditions. They have found a way to adapt to exposure to strong winds and sea spray. Most coastal plants grow close to the ground to avoid the damaging effects of the wind. However, some trees are able to survive on wind-blown headlands because they twist and grow in the direction of the wind.

Find out more about coastal vegetation in Southland.

Sand dunes

Native Pingao growing on sand dunes.Native Pingao growing on sand dunes.Dunes are a particularly challenging environment for plants to grow in as they must be able to tolerate salt, wind and continually changing sand. However, a special group of plants called ‘sand binders’ have overcome these challenges by growing rope-like stems that grow pressed to the sand. They play a crucial role in stabilising sand dunes and protecting the land behind them.

Southland’s largest dune system can be found at Oreti Beach, but it is not a natural dune; the native plants that once grew there have been replaced by the introduced marram grass. Find out more about dune plants and how you can help protect them.

Find out more

Find out more about Southland’s different habitat types in the following booklets:

  • Forest Remnants of the Southland Plains – A Guide to Enhancing Forest Remnants
  • Otatara–Sandy Point Bushcare – A Guide to Enhancing your Bush
  • Wetlands of Southland – A Guide for Maintaining and Enhancing the Values of our Wetland Areas
  • Coastcare – Caring for Southland’s Coastal Plant Communities

Booklets are available from the Invercargill City Council.