Whau is immediately distinctive in the New Zealand forest; with its large floppy heart-shaped leaves and spiky bommy knocker seeds. It produces one of the lightest woods in the world, and as such was a valuable resource for Māori. The seeds and wood could be used as floats for fishing nets and marker buoys. The trunks were also lashed together with supplejack to construct small rafts for hunting crayfish.
The plant was of such value to Māori that it was actively cultivated in some places. The Māori name of Auckland’s iconic Mt. Eden is Maungawhau “The Mountain of the Whau Tree” and in the past its slopes would have been covered in Whau, providing a constant supply of fishing material.
Whau is a true pioneer species. When a gap opens in the forest it pops up instantaneously, racing through its life cycle before succumbing to old age at 10 years old. It does this by flooding the environment with long-lived seeds. These lie dormant in the soil, waiting for the opportune moment to breach the surface and begin the next mad dash to reproduction.
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