How It Works
As the cushion grows, its centre rots, forming spongy peat from which the plant’s roots draw nutrients

How vegetable sheep survive

As the cushion grows, its centre rots, forming spongy peat from which the plant’s roots draw nutrients
As the cushion grows, its centre rots, forming spongy peat from which the plant’s roots draw nutrients
As the cushion grows, its centre rots, forming spongy peat from which the plant’s roots draw nutrients

About 2,000 metres (6,650 feet) up in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island, grey shapes stand like a flock of unmoving sheep. These rounded, ovine cushions are actually Raoulia plants, covered in woolly leaves; they are more commonly known as vegetable sheep because of their appearance.

Plants of the high mountains (called alpines) have to cope with incredibly tough conditions. In winter they are frozen or buried under snow, while in summer, rain soon drains downhill and many hours of sunlight bake the land.

The cushion shape of Raoulia protects it from the weight of snow and it escapes the worst of the winds by hugging the ground. Its woolly leaves form a winter blanket and their grey colour reflects the Sun’s rays during summer.