Isolepis: From the Greek isos (equal) and lepis (scale)
basilaris: From Latin 'basis' borrowed originally from Greek, meaning basal
Current Threat Status
2018 - At Risk - Declining
Previous Threat Status
2012 - Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable
2009 - Threatened - Nationally Endangered
2004 - Serious Decline
2012 - EF, RR, Sp
2009 - De
Isolepis basilaris Hook.f.
Vascular - Native
Scirpus basilaris (Hook.f.) C.B.Clarke, Isolepis novae-zelandiae Colenso
Endemic. North and South Islands from Hawkes Bay to Southland.
Coastal, lowland to upland habitats, up to 700m altitude. On damp, sandy or silty margins of lagoons, tarns, ephemeral lakes and rivers, freshwater or brackish.
Minute, moss-like, densely tufted plant forming circular patches 10–100 mm diameter and up to 60 mm tall, bright green above, reddish brown below. Rhizome < 1 mm. diameter, much branched; sheathing bract at each node loose, membranous, with red nerves. Culms < 1.5 rarely up to 30 mm long, < 0.5 mm diameter. Leaves 1–2 on each branch, much > culms, 5–60 mm long, < 0.5 mm wide, setaceous, plano-convex; sheath membranous, red-nerved. Inflorescence an apparently lateral, single spikelet, or rarely 2, hidden among the leaves, pale green, occasionally with red markings; subtending bract leaf-like, channelled, very much > culm from which it arises and almost = leaves. Spikelets 2.5–3.5 x 1.5–2.0 mm, elliptical or oblong. Glumes 1–2 mm. long, ovate, elliptical, obtuse, white and membranous, or with patches of red on the sides; keel thick, green, occasionally slightly excurrent. Hypogynous bristles 0. Stamens 2-3. Style-branches 2-3. Nut c.0.5 × 0.5 mm, c. 2/3 length of glume, obovoid to suborbicular, plano-convex, dorsally rounded, noticeably apiculate, red-brown to dark brown, almost black, surface often shining but distinctly reticulate.
Isolepis caligenis. Isolepis basilaris has 1-2 leaves per tuft, very short flower stems with spikelets hidden amongst leaves and very dark brown nuts, flat on one side. I. caligenis has 2-5 leaves per tuft, longer flower stems and pearly grey nuts, rounded on both sides. Occasionally Isolepis basilaris with elongated flower stems is difficult to distinguish from I. caligenis if fruit is immature.
September to November
Main Flower Colour
Other Flower Colour
December to April (but seedheads long persistent)
Easily grown from fresh seed and division of whole plants.
Domestic and feral cattle, sheep, horses and pigs are the serious threats throughout this species range, mainly through browse, trampling, and facilitating the spread of weeds. Competition from taller vegetation is significant at many sites. Coastal development (e.g., road widening) and erosion are further common threats to most populations. In some locations plants are threatened by 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Where To Buy
Not commercially available but plants are held by several Botanic Gardens and specialist growers.
References and further reading
Johnson, A. T. and Smith, H. A (1986). Plant Names Simplified: Their pronunciation, derivation and meaning. Landsman Bookshop Ltd: Buckenhill, UK.
Moore, L.B.; Edgar, E. 1970: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. II. Government Printer, Wellington.
Thorsen, M. J.; Dickinson, K. J. M.; Seddon, P. J. 2009. Seed dispersal systems in the New Zealand flora. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 11: 285-309
This page last updated on 30 May 2015