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November 2014 Issue
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The healing plant


New Zealand’s forest environment has been a provider of food, medicines and resources for generations. Riki Bennett shares some of the secrets of forest flora and how Maori have used and perceived these plants

Maori had many environmental indicators for both the present and approaching seasons. One such plant indicator which appears in early spring is the puawananga, announcing its arrival with its beautiful delicate white flowers, as it rambles over its host plants or protrudes from the tree tops.

Besides being a messenger that summer’s approaching, it also had a medicinal use. Short lengths of the vine were cut and one end was blown to expel the sap from the opposite end. The sap was then placed onto open wounds or infections to assist with healing.

The plant is found throughout New Zealand from lowland to montane forests. One area through which I like to travel when the puawananga is in flower is the Mamaku Forest heading south towards Rotorua. You can see this amazing plant hanging from the tops of tawa, kahikatea and kanuka almost like garlands at a welcoming celebration.

It is said that puawananga is the offspring of two celestial stars; Rehua (Antares), the bright yellow star in the tail of Scorpio, and Puanga (Rigel), the bright star of Orion. Rehua is also known as the summer star as its appearance was an ancient indicator to start preparing the gardens for the coming season.

– Riki Bennett is a Waitakere Ranges Regional park ranger and environmental educator with Ohomairangi Ltd