January in the forest with Chris Horne and Barabara Mitcalfe
Metrosideros perforata, Akatea, Clinging rātā
When tramping in January, February or March, look for this slender, woody, vine, up to 15 m tall, with small white or pale-pink flowers, c. 2 cm across, crowded towards the end of the twigs. The conspicuous brush-like stamens are an invitation to bees, bellbirds and tūī to collect pollen and/or nectar. The tiny leaves, 6-12 mm x 5-9 mm, are thick, usually rounded, have down-curved, smooth edges, and are arranged in opposite pairs. Their undersides are dotted with glands, giving them a perforated appearance, hence ‘perforata’.
Young akatea use numerous fine aerial roots to cling to the bark of host trees that they use merely for support – they are not parasitic. In open sites, where there are no trees to climb, they can form shrub-like mounds.
Akatea grows in coastal and lowland forest and forest margins in the North Island, and in the South Island as far south as northeast Canterbury, and Martin’s Bay in the west. Should you be lucky enough to visit the Three Kings Islands, look for it there too.
Māori used the tough, pliant stems of some species of rātā vines for the tikitiki (topknot) style of hairdress- ing. From a rātā vine, they made a small ring about 50 mm in diameter, gathered their hair together on top of the head, slipped the ring over the hair, then slid the ring down close to the head. When you break a bootlace, a pliant stem of a rātā vine may be the solution!
And remember that some of the rātā honey you enjoy may be derived from Akatea.