Near extinct native plant returned to iwi

For immediate release
23 October 2015

A native plant nursed back from the brink of extinction at Scion is today being returned to iwi at an official ceremony in Rotorua.

A rare white-flowered variant of the usually red ngutukākā (kakabeak) was last seen growing in the wild in the 1950s at Tiniroto cliffs near Wairoa on the East Coast of the North Island and was considered extinct.

Brian Richardson, General Manager Forest Science, Scion, says, “A chance discovery of a bag of seeds stored in a member of the public’s garden shed, has led to the recovery of the native plant.

“We’ve been working with iwi, the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, and the Ngutukākā Recovery Group to preserve these native plants, safeguarding their survival for future generations.

“Over the last four years staff at Scion’s research nursery have grown the rare white ngutukākā from seed, applying their propagation expertise and increasing the likelihood of these plants surviving in their natural environment.”

Through genetic testing, the plant’s origins have been traced back to the Wairoa region on the East Coast of the North Island.

Karen Te Kani who led the project at Scion’s nursery says, “The white ngutukākā is considered precious taonga to East Coast iwi. About one hundred plants are being gifted back to Ngati Kohatu and Ngati Hinehika iwi to be planted back on their ancestral land.

“A block of land surrounding Te Reinga marae at Wairoa has been fenced off to keep pests out in preparation for the plants. We will also be providing iwi with a guide on how best to ensure the plants survival,” says Ms Te Kani.

Ngutukākā is New Zealand’s most widely recognised endangered plant and was one of the earliest plants to receive conservation attention with DOC preparing a formal recovery plan in 1993.

Plants are particularly at risk from browsing livestock and introduced forest pests such as rabbits and goats as well as deer and snails. Introduced invasive plant species such as buddleia and gorse also compete for the same forest environment.