Among the many books in our temporary house I found L Cockayne’s New Zealand plants and their story. It’s the 4th edition (1967), but it still has the flavour of the 1st edition (1907). This passage, from the chapter about the vegetation of the high mountains, made me wonder: Had I really seen sheep on those mountainsides — or something else?
Perhaps the most striking denizens of rocks are the various kinds of vegetable sheep (species of Raoulia), which form hard cushions, mostly white but occasionally green — R. rubra of the Tararaus, R. goyenii of Stewart Island, R. buchananii of western Otago — and one of enormous size, R. eximia. The raoulia cushions are all constructed on the same plan. Above, the stems branch again and again, and towards their extremities are covered with small woolly leaves, packed as tightly as possible. Finally, stems, leaves, and all are pressed into a dense, hard, convex mass, making in the case of Raoulia eximinia an excellent and appropriate seat for a wearied botanist. Within the plant is a peat made of rotting leaves and branches, which holds water like a sponge, and into which the final branchlets send roots. Thus the plant lives in great measure on its own decay, and the woody main root serves chiefly as an anchor. The vegetable sheep are not inaptly named, for at a distance an inexperienced shepherd might perhaps be misled.