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In The Hills In The Hills 2013-03

Leptopteris superba < Species index > Leucogenes leontopodium

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 85, # 2, March 2013, page 7

March in the hills with Barbara Mitcalfe and Chris Horne

Leptospermum-scoparium-06a.jpg: 1071x1600, 398k (2017 Apr 24 23:23)
Leptospermum scoparium;, Mānuka
Photo: Jeremy Rolfe
Leptospermum-scoparium-10a.jpg: 1063x1600, 568k (2017 Apr 24 23:23)
Leptospermum scoparium;, Mānuka
Photo: Jeremy Rolfe

Mānuka, Leptospermum scoparium

Lepto = thin; spermum = seed; scoparium = like a domestic broom

Did you notice as you tramped along the Ridge Track in East Harbour Regional Park soon after leaving the top of Wainuiomata Hill Road the variety of species of young, broadleaved trees, including five-finger and māhoe, flourishing under the canopy of the mānuka shrubland? This community of young trees, ferns, climbers etc, is a fine example of the role that mānuka, a pioneering species, plays in the regeneration of native forest on land that has been cleared by fire, by accident, or for farming.

Have you noticed the forest of very large, historic, kānuka in Wellington Botanic Garden, below the Met Office building? This is an outstanding feature of the five areas of native forest in the garden.

Mānuka is a shrub or tree, growing to 10 m tall. A NZ native, it occurs from lowland to sub-alpine areas in dry or swampy sites in the North, South, Stewart and Chatham islands. It also occurs in Australia.

Mānuka, Leptospermum scoparium; Kānuka, Kunzea robusta

Kunzea-robusta-20b.jpg: 1063x1600, 1285k (2017 Nov 02 09:19)
Kunzea robusta, Kānuka
Photo: Jeremy Rolfe
Kunzea-robusta-01.jpg: 1600x1145, 1127k (2017 Nov 02 09:19)
Kunzea robusta, Kānuka
Photo: Jeremy Rolfe

Kunzea = named after Gustav Kunz; ericoides = resembling heath (Erica)

Kānuka is a shrub or tree growing up to 30 m. A NZ endemic, it occurs in well-drained, lowland to montane areas on the Three Kings, and in the North and South islands. It often colonises land recovering after a fire, and, like mānuka, plays a role in the natural recovery of disturbed sites towards eventual forest. It can grow for over a century, but cannot regenerate in its own shade, so is eventually over-topped and replaced by other tree-species.

Since the article was originally publised the name of kanuka has changed. What was called Kunzea ericoides in the article is now Kunzea robusta. Kunzea robusta is the largest and most widespread of the 10 kanuka species and is the only species found in the Wellington region away from sandy coastal areas. Kunzea ericoides is now known to be restricted to the northwest South Island.


Use the table below to help distinguish mānuka from kānuka:

FeatureLeptospermum scopariumKunzea robusta
Part of plantMānukaKānuka
Trunk diameterup to c. 15 cm60 cm or more
Foliage (grasp it firmly)pricklynot prickly
Flowers; diametersingle; c. 10 mmin clusters; 4 – 6 mm
Seed capsulesc. 6 mm diameter; hard, woody; persist2 – 4 mm diameter; not woody; fall off early
Capsule lidsroundedsunken
Seedsreleased in high temperaturesin same season as flowering

Mānuka is smaller than kānuka, and has larger flowers and larger seed capsules than kānuka.


TTC trampers will have noticed that mānuka's strong, hard-wood, rot-resistant branches are often laid as “corduroy” on many a mucky track.

Mānuka was used by Māori for waka decking, fish hooks, fishing rods, traps for eels and other fish, garden tools, spears, clubs, and long poles, called huata used to thrust through the palisades of enemy pā. An infusion of pounded and boiled mānuka and kōwhai bark was applied to the back to ease pain. Mānuka's white gum was also used as an emollient for burns and scalds.

Captain Cook’s crew used the leaves of mānuka to make a spicy tea. In the early days of settlement in Otago, men smoked mānuka bark mixed with tea leaves, as a substitute for tobacco. Mānuka honey, which is collected from mānuka and kānuka, is dark-coloured and strongly-flavoured, however it needs to be remembered that not all varieties of mānuka have the well-known medicinal properties for which consumers are sometimes charged a premium. Kānuka wood is very hard, so has often been used for tool handles and wharf piles. Kānuka gum mixed with oil from tītoki, was used as a perfume.

Both species have been used for firewood that produces great heat, and for fence posts. Kākāriki / parakeets use the leaves and bark of both species to rid themselves of parasites.

Botany 2013

In The Hills 2013-02 < Index chronological > In The Hills 2013-04

Page last modified on 2017 Nov 06 10:06

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