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February 2012 Issue
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Spaniard

Description: Individual plants may be up to 90cm in diameter and half as high, and consist of sharp spines, all pointing out from the centre. In young plants the spines are grass-like and not so stiff. Yellow flowers may also be present, located on long, strong stems.

Season: There is no `season` for speargrass as it seems to be there year around. It flowers in summer forming bright orange sprays. Male and female plants grow separately with the male being the more ornate. They can even be seen in the snow with the dead stems (remnants of old flower heads), poking out above snow level. They can tolerate temperatures down to -15°C.

Fruit: These plants belong to the carrot family and produce small carrot-like roots. These and the young shoots and stems of immature plants have been eaten for centuries by Maori.

Leaves: These are inedible on older plants, but are fine on young ones. They look like tufts of grass.

Location: Spaniards are montane plants, typically found between 900-1500m, although another species, squarrosa, is found in coastal regions from East Cape to Nelson, where they grow up to the sub montane areas.

Why eat them? In a survival situation these plants could be life savers although the roots are hard to get to, because of the sharp spined leaves (the easiest way is to pull out the plants using a rope). There is documented evidence of them being eaten by miners.

Unusual tip: The resin naturally found within the plants can also be used as a chewing gum.

-Ben Francis

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