Kūmarahou – Pomaderris kumerahou

For most of the year kūmarahou is a rather unremarkable looking plant, hiding in plain sight with its dull-green velvety leaves. In late spring however, the plant bursts forth with clusters of creamy-yellow flowers – colouring the landscape in sunny blossoms. For Māori this was the signal that it was time to plant kūmara. The English name – Gumdigger’s soap – comes from it’s use on the … Continue reading Kūmarahou – Pomaderris kumerahou

Kawakawa – Piper excelsum

For the early Polynesian explorers, the first glimpse of the New Zealand coastline must have been a staggering and bewildering sight. A vast, cold and mountainous landscape, populated with a bizarre assortment of plants unlike anything they had ever seen. In the midst of this unfamiliar forest, the heart-shaped leaves of Kawakawa would have been a welcome sight. The plant bears a striking resemblance to … Continue reading Kawakawa – Piper excelsum

Pīngao – Ficinia spiralis

In former times, Pīngao would have crowded the shore of every sandy beach from Northland to Stewart Island. The curly golden leaves were highly admired as a weaving material, and were used to make hats, bags, mats, headbands, belts and raincapes. South Island Māori were even known to make body armour with the leaves that was worn into battle. Pīngao was such an important part of the … Continue reading Pīngao – Ficinia spiralis

Pukatea – Laurelia novae-zelandiae

Pukatea rises from wet and swampy ground to tower amongst the giants of the forest. To achieve this amazing feat, it builds itself walled buttress roots that help prop it up in soggy soil and keep it from falling over. In very wet conditions, it will even grow pneumatophores – small snorkel-like structures on its roots that help them breathe underwater. The bark of Pukatea contains a powerful … Continue reading Pukatea – Laurelia novae-zelandiae

Māpou – Myrsine australis

Māpou is a tough little tree. It manages to thrive just about anywhere, colonising bare ground as well as the understory of dense forests. It’s also able to cope with browsing from the hoardes of introduced mammals that plague New Zealand forests, as it has unpalatable leaves that sheep and cattle tend to avoid. Even Brushtail Possums don’t seem to like the taste, and will seek out other plants … Continue reading Māpou – Myrsine australis

Megaherbs of the Subantarctic Islands

Far below the New Zealand mainland, through the lashing winds and crashing waves, lie the Subantarctic islands – a series of remote, rocky outcrops scattered across the South Pacific. At first glance, its hard to think of a more hostile place for plants to grow. The islands are battered by towering waves and torn apart by gale force winds, with only a tiny amount of sunshine … Continue reading Megaherbs of the Subantarctic Islands

Mangemange – Lygodium articulatum

At first glance the thin wiry stems of Mangemange look easy to break, but they are actually incredibly strong. Many trampers find themselves strung up by the plant, struggling in vain to break free. Māori believed these tough wiry stems were so durable they could last a hundred years, and found a number of ingenious uses for them. Mangemange stems were made into rope, thatching, fish … Continue reading Mangemange – Lygodium articulatum