NATIVE PLANTS & RONGOĀ GARDENS
NGĀ TĀNGATA WHENUA – PEOPLE OF THE LAND
Over one thousand years ago successive groups of Polynesian people from the Central Pacific began to migrate south to seek new homes. They were guided across trackless ocean by observing movements of the stars and to these shores by the homeward flight of returning birds. From the formation of distant cloud patterns they first named this land Aotearoa.
Ngā Tāngata Whenua (people of the land) gained useful knowledge in the utilisation of plants. These early ancestors of the present day Māori brought with them some of their most treasured possessions – seeds and plants on which their very survival depended. Over time the earliest inhabitants progressed from food gathering to subsistence cultivation, even rotational cropping. The most successful import was Kūmara (Ipomaea batatas), a sweet potato. Foods as diverse as a form of bread made from the pollen of raupo (Typha sp.) to the extraction of edible starch from the poisonous berries of the Karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata) were commonly used. Nectar gathered from the open flowers of the Harakeke, (flax, Phormium tenax) provided a seasonal touch of sweetness.
Wild plants also provided other basic needs such as building materials, clothing, baskets and cordage needed for fishing nets. The production of Rongoā (herbal medicines) is still popular even today. Each plant species was given a name and the knowledge of its use was passed down through the generations.
The story of the gardens began when ideas to celebrate the Millennium were debated by the committee of SPOKKSA (Society for the Preservation of the Kerikeri Stone Store Area Inc). Since the Bay of Islands has been one of the focal points of Natural History exploration in New Zealand it was decided to explore the possibility of planting an area administered by the Department of Conservation. When approached they agreed enthusiastically with the project and indeed have provided many of the plants for the committee free of charge. The collection of plant material has been extended to include living specimens of the many species of Northland plants on which humans have depended since settlement began in this land.
Work commenced during September 1999 when the site was cleared of unwanted weed growth. Tracks were then formed linking the various habitats required by the plants.
Although the Māori people had named many of the plants found here, from the scientific point of view botanical exploration began when Captain James Cook first dropped the anchor of HM barque Endeavor in New Zealand waters. This was just one of Cook’s ports of call on his epic Voyage of Discovery to the South Seas. On board the ship were the noted amateur naturalist Joseph (later Sir Joseph) Banks and the eminent botanist Dr. Daniel Solander. Completing their party were three artists as well as a number of personal servants. His father had left the young Banks a fortune. With it he financed the botanical side of the expedition from his own pocket. Throughout his life he used this money in any way he could for the advancement of science.
Cook anchored in the lee of Motu Arohia (Arohia Island) in the Bay of Islands on 29th November 1769 where the ship remained for one week. It was long enough for the small party of botanists to collect 85 species of plants new to science. Meticulous drawings were made of many of the plants found in New Zealand. Later copper plates were engraved to transfer these pictures into a monumental work to be known as Banks Florilegium. After some twelve years and escalating costs it appears the project was abandoned as Banks developed other interests.
In the years that followed Captain Cook made two further journeys to the South Seas at the behest of the British Admiralty. On board for the second voyage were father and son J R & G Forster to act as botanist and artist. The Forsters continued to make important finds in our area. A book published in Germany in 1776 first made reference to New Zealand plants.
The British were not the only ones exploring this distant land of New Zealand. In 1822 the corvette Coquille sailed from Toulon in France to the South Seas. Captain Duperey anchored in the Bay of Islands for a month. The Executive officer on board Dumont d’Urville, was botanist and P A Lesson his assistant: both have their names commemorated in some of our local plants. Later their ship was refitted and renamed L’Astrolabe, returning here in 1827 when even more species were found and added to the growing New Zealand list.
The experienced Cunningham brothers, Allan and Richard were here in 1826 and 1839, and 1833 respectively when they spent much time in Northland. Not all of the naturalists coming here were professionals. Cornishman William Colenso was a missionary printer and J D Hooker was an assistant surgeon to the British Antarctic Expedition. The latter was here in 1841. On his return to England, Hooker, now Sir Joseph Hooker, succeeded his father Sir William Hooker as Director of the garden at Kew. He corresponded with several New Zealand botanists publishing their findings in two volumes, dedicated to them with the words, “This work, which owes so much to their indefatigable exertions”. These proved to be of great value to the emerging New Zealand-based naturalists.
With the Mission Station established at Kerikeri, a centre became available for exploration further inland. There are now some two and a half thousand plants on the New Zealand list. Many of these grow here in the north of the country and were first named scientifically from our area.
This was also used in reference as the first of a number of coastal staging posts for the departure of Ngāpuhi fighters and expeditions to the south.
Akeake: Weapons – lances, tool handles
Horopito: Medicinal – to alleviate toothache
Kaikōmako: Domestic – hard wood used in making fire
Karaka: Food – seed kernels made into flour
Kauri: Timber – boat/house building, gum
Kawakawa: Medicinal – poultice for joint pains
Kōtukutuku: Food – edible fruit
Kōwhai: Medicinal – treating wounds and tumours
Kumeraho: Domestic – for making water soapy
Māhoe: Domestic – fire making (see kaikomako)
Makomako: Food – edible fruit
Mānuka: Medicinal – used as a sedative; tea
Mātai: Timber – flooring, furniture
Miro: Timber – flooring, weatherboards
Nīkau: Building – thatching
Pohutukawa: Timber – boat building
Poroporo: Medicinal – for treating ulcers
Pūriri: Timber – valuable but difficult to work
Ramarama: Medicinal – to treat bruising and burns
Rangiora: Medicinal – poultice for boils; sores
Rātā: Timber – boat building
Rewarewa: Superior – wood for furniture
Rimu: Timber – heavy durable
Tānekaha: Timber – strong, extremely pliable
Taraire: Timber – close grained, easily worked
Tarata: Domestic – flowers mixed with fat to make scented lotions
Tawa: Timber – excellent flooring
Te kouka: Food – pith from the inner wood eaten
Totara: Timber – carving, canoe building, bark used for roofing
Whau: Domestic – light wood used for floats on fishing nets