Cursed weed or New Zealand’s own Christmas tree?

IMG_3810Manuka, 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.

Maori gardening in pre-European NZ

Horticulture was integral to pre-European Maori culture. As Bee Dawson states in “A history of gardening in New Zealand”, the ability to produce reliable garden crops influenced the settlement patterns of early Maori. Thus, the warmer areas of the North Island, particularly those with fertile volcanic soils, supported much larger populations than those further south where both climate and terrain made horticulture less viable. The northern two-thirds of the North Island proved most rewarding in terms of horticultural production, while Banks Peninsula in the South Island marked the southern limit of Maori horticulture. Continue reading

What is natural? – the tussocklands of Otago

The dramatic tussock-lands of Lindis Pass are one the iconic landscapes of the South Island, and much admired by the traveler on their way from Canterbury to Queenstown or beyond. So iconic has this landscape become, it is hard to believe that while the tussock vegetation is “indigenous”, it is not “natural”. Rather, it is a human-induced landscape.

Lindis Pass is part of an extensive “dryland zone” which extends along much of the eastern part of the South Island [see map below right]. Continue reading