The Meaning of Trees
explores the history, use and significance of New Zealand’s native plant species. Here you will find information about the role plants have played throughout history, and how they have been used for medicine, food, shelter, science and spirituality. The goal of the website is to show that plants are not just as creatures that share our landscape but are active players in our history and lives.

How to use this website

Find out detailed information on a particular native tree or plant.
Learn how it has been used and viewed throughout history.

This section explores key people and groups that have shaped our interaction with plants.

Learn how the native flora have influenced human and evolutionary history.

Explores which native plants are edible and which make the best teas and beers.

Who am I?

Author Pic_ Robert Vennell_Taken by Matthew CatinRobert Vennell is the author of The Meaning of Trees, a history of New Zealand’s plants and people. He works as a Collection Manager in the Natural Science department at Auckland Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira, collecting and preparing specimens for the natural science galleries. His background is in ecology and he has spent many hours wandering through the bush studying wild pigs and their impact on native flora and fauna.

Find out more about the author of Meaning of Trees Robert Vennell

Get in Touch

You can follow The Meaning of Trees on TwitterFacebookPinterest and Instagram

10 thoughts on “About

    1. Thanks very much! Glad to hear you are enjoying the site. I definitely intend to keep it going indefinitely and have a very long list of plants and other things I’d love to write about. I’ve been taking a break at the moment to finish my thesis, but hope to be back writing again soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have recently bought your book and am loving its mixture of lore and science. I live near a rare remnant of coastal native bush on NI East coast and have become fascinated with all the vines that hang from the trees, especially Puka, Griselinia lucida I think. Have you written anything about this? If not, please . . . ! How does it grow? What is its relationship with astelia epiphytes which always seem to be near? Also rata: you say it starts as an epiphyte then sends down a root, but we have the white rata here which seems to grow up from where it spreads across the ground?
    Many thanks.


    1. Hi David,

      Thanks so much for writing, glad to hear you enjoyed the book! I have not tackled Puka yet, but its a good idea. Puka usually starts its life as an epiphyte in the crown of trees but sometimes can grow as a tree on the ground. Griselinia lucida often has deep grooves running down its roots, and very lop-sided leaves where they meet at the base.

      Interesting question about the Astelia – I guess both plants are looking to establish themselves in the similar areas of the trees. I have seen them growing together quite often, and imagine that once a nest epiphyte like Astelia gets established, there is probably more soil and substrate for the Puka to germinate. They are not closely related genetically.

      Yes thats right, our tree rata start their lives as epiphytes and grow to become trees. However we also have a number of climbing rata which remain vines their whole lives.

      Best wishes,


      1. Thank you Robert. I saw a puka on a fallen kohekohe. At its base it was 50mm diameter spreading to an enormous 180mm at its widest, way up. I guess that, unlike a free standing tree, it does not need girth at its base. But the weight became too much for the old kohekohe which only grew to accommodate its own branches.


  2. …I have just reread your book for the second time….It was given to me as a birthday present….and as the ”old bloke” who works on the Rainbow Station,I have just completed week or so ,on road maintenance, prior to the opening of the road through to Hamner…thus staying at the old Rainbow Homestead (1890’s vintage ), What better place to read a book of this interesting and informative subject….and sitting by the big open fire , whilst reading !!
    I became interested in”trees” at an early age….The ”Woodman’s School”‘ in the Golden Downs offered endless opportunity for a career path…from a humble”bushman” to a PhD in Forestry (via Uni )..but, alas, a family tragedy intervened….
    However, my interest in the Native NZ Forests ramped up every winter for many years, as I trapped and poisoned the ubiquitous opossum, around the hinter lands at the “Top of the South”….I used to send the top skins to London Fur Market, thus earning good money, whilst assisting , albeit humbly, our Flora…
    I am lucky to own a few acres of New Zealand, on which one particular gully of seventy acres in extent, remains untouched…..thus we have an array of natives, therein, including twenty odd Rimu trees…
    Thankyou for you excellent “”The Meaning of Trees””
    Regards Mike Newman


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