Lord of the Trees: The Botany of Middle Earth

For many people around the world, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy put New Zealand on the map. The sweeping panorama shots of snow-topped mountains, remote tussock grasslands and wild untamed forests worked like an extended tourism video, and visitors flocked to the country in record numbers. However with such a huge emphasis on the spectacular scenery there is an important character in the … Continue reading Lord of the Trees: The Botany of Middle Earth

Supplejack – Ripogonum scandens

History & Culture The thick black scrambling vines of Supplejack – Kareao – are a distinctive feature of the New Zealand rainforest. In Māori tradition, the vines grew from the tail of the monstrous eel god – Tunaroa. When Maui’s wife Raukura was gathering water from a stream, Tunaroa knocked her over with his giant tail and insulted her. In revenge, Maui ambushed Tunaroa – … Continue reading Supplejack – Ripogonum scandens

Kiekie – Freycinetia banksii

  History & Culture In Māori tradition, Kiekie and Harakeke are regarded as long lost brothers. Harakeke left home to live with Wainui – the mother of waters – while Kiekie stayed with Tāne – the Lord of the forest – piggy-backing on his shoulders wherever he went. Today, this is where you will most commonly find Kiekie, suspended among the canopy of our mightiest trees. … Continue reading Kiekie – Freycinetia banksii

Tutu – Coriaria arborea

Culture & History Tutu is one of New Zealand’s deadliest plants. Although the fruit is edible, every other part of the plant contains the powerful neurotoxin tutin which attacks the muscular and nervous systems. The plant claimed the lives of many early Māori – especially children- when seeds were accidentally  swallowed along with the fruit.  European settlers also fell victim to the plant, with cases … Continue reading Tutu – Coriaria arborea

Metrosideros – Pioneers of the Pacific

The Metrosideros genus contains around 50 species and is one of the most widely distributed plants in the Pacific. The subgenus Mearnsia contains the shrubs, creepers and climbers and includes New Zealand species such as White and Scarlet Rata. It is generally only found on fragments of the old Gondwanan landmass: New Zealand, New Caledonia and New Guinea. The subgenus Metrosideros contains trees such as … Continue reading Metrosideros – Pioneers of the Pacific

Karaka – Corynocarpus laevigatus

Culture & History The most striking feature of the Karaka tree are it’s large orange berries; and the word Karaka in Māori means “to be orange”. The raw kernels of these berries carry the toxin Karakin, which is highly poisonous. Humans who consume the kernels convulse in violent spasms that leave them physically distorted and paralyzed. Māori treatment for Karaka poisoning was to gag the … Continue reading Karaka – Corynocarpus laevigatus

Kōwhai – Sophora spp.

Culture & History The typical native flower is pale, white and inconspicuous. Little wonder then, that the flashy yellow blooms of the Kōwhai have become ingrained in the New Zealand consciousness. They hold unofficial status as our national flower, are a common icon of artwork and nationhood, and depictions of Kōwhai have been used on postage stamps and coins. Kōwhai is the Māori word for yellow, and … Continue reading Kōwhai – Sophora spp.

A Land Without Teeth

  The Death of the Dinosaurs When New Zealand first began to rift away from Gondwana, dinosaurs still walked amongst the shade of giant conifers, the ocean was ruled by vicious marine reptiles and the skies were dominated by flying pterosaurs. But around 65 million years ago a meteorite roughly 10 kilometres wide crashed into the Yucatan peninsula. The shockwave, the ensuing tsunamis and firestorms, … Continue reading A Land Without Teeth