Manuka, along with its indigenous cousin, kanuka, have long been referred to as “scrub” by New Zealanders. “Scrub” is a term which infers something diminutive, including small trees or shrubs, and has a nuance of inferiority. As one of the first species to recolonise an area of cleared bush, manuka has long been viewed with loathing by farmers – its vigour and ability to quickly regenerate made it a cursed “weed”.
But, in our back garden, with its fine needle-like leaves, and covered in a shower of delicate, five-petaled flowers and pearl-like buds, it is reminiscent of snow on a small pine tree. In my mind, it is more than worthy of being New Zealand’s answer to the Christmas tree.
Manuka and Kanuka are precious treasures. Apart from medicinal and health values they are a part of what makes New Zealand. I would love to see see them replace many of the imported plants that are so middle class European in the message the radiate from suburban middle class suburbs, road verges and rural properties. Steep farm hillsides should be replanted with manuka and money made from both the reduction of erosion on the one hand and also the honey and pharmaceutical industries.