April in the hills with Chris Horne and Michele Dickson
Olearia paniculata, Akiraho, Golden Akeake
Origin of the botanical name
Olearia comes from the name of a German botanist, Johann Gottfried Ölschläger (1635-1711), his surname latinised to Olearius, which means ‘oil presser’; paniculata means ‘bearing panicles’, i.e., loose clusters of flowers’. Akiraho is a member of the world’s and Aotearoa’s largest plant family, the daisy family, called the Asteraceae or Compositae.
Distribution and habitat
Akiraho is endemic to New Zealand. It occurs on Te Ika a Māui/North Island from the Waikato River mouth and the Firth of Thames southwards and on Te Waipounamu/South Island as far south as Greymouth and Ōamaru. Look for it in lowland to lower montane shrublands and forest margins.
Akiraho is a shrub or small tree up to 6 m tall. The trunk is up to 40 cm diameter and may be up to almost 1 m diameter near the ground. It sometimes has several trunks. The brown bark hangs in strips. The branchlets are red-brown, grooved, angular and tomentose / finely hairy. The leaves are 3-10 cm long x 2-4 cm wide, leathery, hairless on top and with white to buff hairs / tomentum underneath. The smooth edges of the leaves may range from wavy to almost flat. The leaf stalks / petioles are up to 5 mm long.
Akiraho is unusual in that it flowers in autumn from March to May and sets seed in winter from April to July. The female and male flower parts appear on the same florets. The small whitish florets are solitary and occur in clusters, unlike most daisy flowers where the florets are bunched tightly together in the same flower. The small, dry fruit, 3.5 mm long x 2 mm wide, contains one seed covered with hairs which facilitate its distribution by the wind. Sample the lovely perfume of the white flowers, in evenings in autumn. The colour and perfume attract pollinating insects.
An oil extracted from akiraho has been studied to determine its composition and possible uses. Akiraho is widely grown as a hedge plant. If you hear of other actual uses, please tell us.
Where can you find akiraho / golden akeake?
Look for it in lowland to lower mountain shrubland and forest margins in the Tararua, Remutaka and Aorangi ranges and Wellington’s western hills.
Akiraho is superficially similar to Olearia albida / tanguru which occurs from North Cape to south Waikato and Gisborne. Akiraho’s bark is brown and the side veins linking the mid-rib to the leaf margin are not visible. Tanguru’s bark is grey and the side veins are visible. Tanguru has sometimes been planted on Wellington’s road-side banks.