News | 8 May 2024
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Tūmatakuru plants set to spike in Pōneke

A small native shrub with spikes so sharp they’re said to have been used as a defence mechanism in Māori pā is being given a helping hand to reestablish in Pōneke.

tūmatakuru bushes in the wild
Tūmatakuru plants in the wild.

While prolific in other parts of the country, it’s believed there are only five tūmatakuru, Discaria toumatou (also known as matagouri) plants left in the Wellington city area.  

In May 2023 two plants living on a hillock at Wellington Airport had to be removed for the construction of the Moa Point sludge minimisation facility, a critical piece of water infrastructure for the city.  

Project Director Janet Molyneux says the team is committed to doing what it can to help regenerate the shrub’s population and asked for a report to be written to help guide the restoration of this taonga. 

Before the hillock was removed, seeds and cuttings were taken from the few plants living on it and taken to Berhampore Nursery, where there are now about 218 tūmatakuru seedlings growing. 

Image of the Tūmatakuru plant's sharp spikes
Tūmatakuru seedlings at the Berhampore nursery.

Wellington City Council Biodiversity Specialist Anita Benbrook says it’s important the genetic diversity of the plants isn’t lost, so these seedlings will be planted in Pōneke and further afield.  

The shrub can’t produce new seeds without a partner – male and female tūmatakuru must be growing near each other to reproduce, so planting must be done thoughtfully, she says.  

“There used to be a population out at Owhiro Quarry, and we hope to reestablish that. We are also hoping to send a few cuttings to the Baring Head – Parangarahu Lakes area to diversify the gene pool there as that is the only other population in the wider Wellington area,” Anita says.  

“There’s a relic population at Moa Point now, but once they’re gone that will be it. We won’t see them again unless we actively do something about it. 

“We aim to re-plant in groups of 5-11 plants which will create small populations that will be able to reproduce.” 

Anita hopes it will be possible for a group to be put in charge of looking after the newly planted seedlings for five or six years, as they’re very slow to establish. 

Image of the Tūmatakuru plant's sharp spikes
The sharp spikes of Tūmatakuru were used for ta moko (tattooing) before the introduction of tools, and as a defence mechanism in Māori pā.

Nate Rowe, (Taranaki Whānui, Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Maniapoto) kaitohutohu for the project, says as a native plant the tūmatakuru is considered a taonga and exploring the plant’s traditional use by mana whenua is hugely exciting. 

It’s said to have been used in ta moko (tattooing) before the introduction of tools, and as a defence mechanism in Māori pā.  

“It’s referenced in one of the early oriori (Māori lullaby) as being one of the many native plants found by Kupe, one of the first people from Te Moananui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) to come to Aotearoa.  

“It is one of mana whenua’s values to protect taonga like this. Tūmatakuru has always had a practical purpose, but it also forms part of the natural life cycle or lore of our taiao".