I have wanted to sit and write another blog for a long time, but with a five day a week job and three kids, time has been scarce and the days slip by so fast I can’t even catch my breath. Every now and again I pause to take stock, remembering to slow down and pay attention to the moment I am in. I might stop to watch hundreds of thousands of introduced starlings around where we live flying in mesmerizing murmurations over our house – trying to imagine what the giant flocks of kakariki would have been like 160 years ago in Canterbury. The other day I looked up while I holding my son’s hand as we walked together across the school playground and lost myself momentarily gazing at the incredible clouds above my head. The water vapor in dense broody grey surges like a slow moving avalanche across the sky reminded me how finely tuned and rare our planet is. What an incredible creation it is. In moments like these I am reminded again how small I am and how big the Earth is, but also how totally dependent we all are on this one planet and its health. Every day more and more of our environment is compromised and more and more of the incredible species we share it with are becoming threatened.
Today I am writing about a species many people in New Zealand may have seen but not thought much about. In 2012 this plant’s conservation status was listed as “not threatened”. In 2018 that changed to “threatened – nationally vulnerable”. It is a woody climbing vine with pretty white flowers called Metrosideros perforata. It is a type of rata, and is related to the pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa also known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree). I have a real soft spot for Metrosideros perforata with its fluffy white flowers and attractive dark green foliage. This year I stopped to photograph it covered in bees and masses of flowers at Punakaiki during our summer holiday. I spent quite a while “in the moment” while I looked at the flowers, wondering why we don’t see it planted more often.
M. perforata fills an important ecological role in creating habitat for some of New Zealand’s stick insect species. Planting a combination of manuka, kanuka and M. perforata would be ideal to attract these fascinating insects into your garden. During mid summer M. perforata is covered in masses of white flowers opening from white buds. These flowers are popular with native bees, introduced bees, and are highly attractive to butterflies, birds, geckos, and (at night) bats and moths. For lizards the plant also provides habitat connection and protection from predators. Native birds such as the tui, bellbird and kākā all benefit from the presence of rātā in a forest.
Metrosideros perforata was valued by Maori, who prized it for use in lashing. It was used in the manufacture of weapons (eg lashing an adz to a handle) as well as in construction of palisades and other structures. Thin young stems of M. perforata were tied in a green state, when they were still pliable. Once they had subsequently dried, they became very hard and rigid. The large cables that form on very old rata vines were also used by Maori as a means of climbing cliffs – a practice that is adapted in the myth of Tawhaki, a warrior who ascended to the heavens on a giant ‘aka’ cable (to bring back his wife and child, in one version).
If you (like me) are addicted to gardening and small scale ecosystem restoration, then this is definitely a plant you should have in your garden. Because its a climber it can be planted beside retaining walls, along side fences and walls and it will look gorgeous with it’s masses of fluffy white flowers. Planting it will also have many positive effects on the birds, bats, lizards and insects that struggle in our heavily modified modern environment. Many of our native plants are overlooked because they are relatively unknown. I think we need to look more to our native plants and create micro or pocket ecosystems to help re-establish these plants more widely. I have seen M. perforata for sale recently at Bunnings, but it is also available online at various native plant nursery’s including Tawapou Coastal Natives.
I hope I have given you some food for thought and some inspiration to plant something new in your garden. Every little bit counts, that’s what I keep telling myself. Each plant that is planted contributes to the continuation of a species and also helps countless other life forms as well. We have a little M. perforata plant that we grew from a cutting. It is too small at present to plant in our little native ecosystem restoration area but next year we hope to add it to to our little pocket forest. Hopefully it will grow and produce plenty of seeds that will spread widely all around the area. When it is mature enough to flower, I will be able to pause and watch the bees at work in the beautiful white flowers and remember that I am part of something much bigger than just me. I am part of repairing the damage to our planet. I can’t just live on this planet, I have to contribute. I can’t just take from it I have to give to it.
So there you have it, one more reason to go hard for the environment and conservation.
Common name: Akatea
Threats: All rata species are currently listed as threatened, partly due to invasive Myrtle Rust (Austropuccinia psidii). Rata are also extremely palatable to possums.
Flowering: November – March, flower colour white.
Description: Woody long-climbing vine. Dense fluffy clusters of white flowers.
Distribution: Endemic. New Zealand: Three Kings, North and South Islands to about northern Otago and northern Fiordland
Habitat: Coastal to montane. An abundant plant of open scrub, dense forest or rock-land. In forest and scrub situations climbing on other trees but also climbing up cliff faces, and on rock outcrops.
Suits: damp, dry, shade, partial shade, sunny, shelter, exposure, coastal forest garden, coastal and dune garden, small garden or balcony.