Journal Number 104
August 2007


Brian John Peter Molloy (1930- )
Molloybas cryptanthus

By Val Smith

Orphaned at an early age, Brian Molloy developed an independence and strength of character that helped him pursue a career doing what he loved - working with native plants.

He was born in Wellington and brought up in Waikanae and at Palmerston North, where he received his secondary education at Marist Brothers High School, followed by a Diploma in Agriculture at Massey College in 1950.

With little chance of getting onto a farm in the postwar years, teaching agriculture seemed a reasonable alternative, and he took his Diploma in Teaching at Christchurch Teachers College.
A few sessions with large classes of children changed his mind, however, and he continued with his own studies, graduating M.Sc. (Hons) in Botany at Canterbury University (1960), and Ph.D. in Plant Science at Lincoln College (1966).

The years 1956-1958 were noteworthy also for his sporting achievements - he played rugby in the New Zealand Universities team that beat the Springboks, and was a member of the All Blacks team that toured Australia. In 1957 he married Barbara Anita O'Neill, which was to give them three daughters and a son.

Until 1969 he was a research officer with the Department of Agriculture, working on tussock grassland, weeds and pasture ecology, and then moved to the Botany Division of the DSIR (now Landcare Research), specialising in plant taxonomy, nature conservation and soil and vegetation history, until his retirement in 1995. He has also been to the forefront of many conservation organisations, and instrumental in the acquisition of new protected areas and extensions to existing parks and reserves.

Although he regards himself as a general botanist, Brian Molloy has done extensive work and is a recognised authority on New Zealand orchids, conifers and some of the daisies. He has written over 100 scientific papers, most of them on botanical subjects. In 1983 Johns and Molloy's book Native Orchids of New Zealand and his own Ferns in Peel Forest, both with text aimed at the nonspecialist, were published. Riccarton Bush: Putaringamotu, with contributions from acknowledged experts, was edited by Brian Molloy and released in 1995.

In 1990 Brian Molloy was awarded the Loder Cup for his contribution to conservation and the study of native plants, and in 1992 received the Community Service Award. A new kowhai species, Sophora molloyi, "as tough as old boots and like its namesake Brian Molloy, hardy in all extremes of weather," was named in his honour in 2001. The following year a new orchid genus was named Molloybas in "well-deserved recognition of the man who has contributed so much to New Zealand orchids".  

Molloybas cryptanthus

(Hatch) D.L.Jones & M.A.Clem. Orchadian 13(10): 448 (2002).

Molloybas is a monotypic New Zealand genus.

Molloybas cryptanthus ("hidden flower") is a curious leafless orchid lacking chlorophyll.

It is usually found growing with mosses, almost entirely beneath manuka or beech litter on the forest floor.

The flower is almost colourless, but may be flecked with red or brown; the petals and sepals are long, and often emerge above the surface of the leaf litter; the labellum is wide and deeply fringed.

M cryptanthus flowers in July to September and its elongated seed stems (up to 15 cm) appear above the ground in November.

This rarely seen plant has been known since the 1880's, but was not described until its rediscovery near Warkworth in 1949 by Owen Gibson and Bruce Irwin.

Molloybas cryptanthus watercolour by Bruce Irwin

Molloybas cryptanthus ; watercolour by Bruce Irwin, reproduced in "Bruce Irwin's orchid paintings".
NZ Native Orchid Group's Historical Series 2004. 13: 16.




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