Native plants (New Zealand)
Where can I find information about the native plants of New Zealand?
Image: Photographs of trees and native plants by Dylan Owen. Collection: Alexander Turnbull Library.
Entry last updated: 18/12/19
Native plants are plants that are indigenous to or originate from a specific country. New Zealand has a wide variety of native plants which are unique as they have evolved in isolation for millions of years. Early Māori found many valuable uses for native plants – in fact, they were essential to survival.
Fern: New Zealand has about 200 species of fern. The silver fern being a national symbol.
Flax (harakeke): A valuable resource because of its strength. New Zealand's biggest export in early European times.
Kauri: One of the largest and longest living trees in the world. Māori often gave these trees chiefly status.
Koromiko: The most common use for this plant in New Zealand is for rongoā (traditional Māori medicine).
Kōwhai: Known for their brilliant yellow flowers. The nectar being an important food source for native birds.
Mānuka: Honey derived from the pollen of mānuka flowers contains powerful medicinal agents.
Pittosporum: Small bushy trees with attractive foliage. Grown widely in gardens.
Pōhutukawa: Known as New Zealand's Christmas tree because it produces blazing red flowers around Christmas time.
Pūhā (rauriki): This plant was traditionally one of the most staple green vegetables of the Māori and is still eaten today.
Facts and pictures
In this entry native plants refers to all native vegetation which includes ferns, flaxes and trees.
This is a great website for anything on New Zealand. Information is arranged in sections called What’s the story?
- To find information about native plants click on The Bush, and then Native Plants & Fungi.
- You will find lots of information here on New Zealand native plants including poisonous plants and mosses.
- Alternatively, you can type the specific name of a plant into the search box at the top of the page. For example 'lancewood'.
Tips: Te Ara links sometimes take you to the Short Story. Remember to click on the Full Story if you want more in-depth information. You can also look at the All images and media link for pictures and photos related to your story.
DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on New Zealand history and brings together results from lots of different websites. It’s an easy way of searching online resources from New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once, and has lots of primary sources.
- Type the keywords 'native plants' into the search box at the top of the page. You can use other keywords such as 'native flora', or 'pōhutukawa' if you are looking for a specific plant.
- To narrow down the results of your search, at the top of the page you can chose to limit to images, videos, books, newspapers along with other types of media.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g 'native plants'. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
The Department of Conservation (DOC for short) is the government website about preserving the natural and historical sites of New Zealand. This site is an excellent source of information on New Zealand’s native plants (also known as native flora).
- At the top of the page, hover over the heading Nature and some options will appear - click on Native plants.
- Not only can you find information on individual plants such as the kauri, the Mount Cook lily, and the lancewood/horoeka, but there are groups of plants as well, including beech forest, harakeke/flax and wetland forests.
- There is also a search box at the top of the page where you can type in the name of a specific plant, for example 'pōhutakawa'. This will bring up a list of links to other pages on the site related to that specific plant. This may include blogs, conservation efforts and projects.
Tip: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
This is a comprehensive website that includes plant groups, scientific names for each plant, their ecosystems and what threatens each species. A good site if you are looking for specific plants.
- In the search box at the top of the page type in the name of the specific plant you are looking for. For example, 'kōwhai' or 'pōhutukawa'.
- There are many threats to New Zealand's native plant life. These may be human induced or naturally occurring events. At the top of the home page click on the Threats link to find information on this.
Māori food (kai) and medicine (rongōa)
New Zealand was originally covered with dense native bush, and its ferns, vines, palms, fungi, berries, fruit and seeds became important foods for early Māori. Koromiko is the Māori name given to several New Zealand native plants formerly belonging to the hebe group of plants. As well as being widely used for garden plantings and revegetation projects, koromiko's most common use in New Zealand is for rongoā (traditional Māori medicine).
You can find some good information on Te Ara about Māori food and medicine related to native plants.
- Use the keywords 'Māori food' or 'Māori kai' in the search box (kai is the Māori name for food).
- We found some information here on Māori kai which includes plants - Traditional growing and gathering and Traditional foods.
- We typed 'Māori medicine' into the search box and found several entries leading to stories, including rongoā - medicinal use of plants and medicines and remedies.
Pūhā, or rauriki, was traditionally one of the most staple green vegetables of the Māori and is still eaten today. You can find some pūhā recipes on the Kids Creations page.
Te Papa is a another great site for finding information on New Zealand which includes websites, blogs and exhibitions.
- Try searching for 'Māori medicine' using the search box.
- This brings up an informative site on traditional Māori medicine which includes the plants mānuka, koromiko, harakeke and kawakawa.
Early Māori used harakeke for weaving garments, mats, rope, fishing nets, and many other things.
The Christchurch City Libraries website has a comprehensive entry on harakeke which includes the Māori protocol for gathering the leaves.
Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the ‘about us’ link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the company’s mission and values are.
There have been many books written on New Zealand native plants - check out your local public or school library to see what they have.
Two recommended titles are: