November in the hills with Chris Horne, Michele Dickson
Coprosma repens, taupata, mirror bush
Introduction to Coprosma
The family Rubiaceae, commonly called the coffee family, is the fourth largest family of flowering plants in the world. In New Zealand it is represented by the genera Coprosma with about 50 native species, Galium with three native species and Nertera with seven native species. A conspicuous family characteristic is that the leaves are almost always opposite. The protective little flaps called stipules at the base of each leaf, which join in the middle of the stem between the opposite leaf stalks, are called interpetiolar stipules. These vary in appearance between the different species. Coprosma is one of New Zealand’s larger native plant genera, the species ranging in size from small prostrate shrubs to twiggy shrubs and trees. Nearly all species are endemic, all have male and female flowers on separate plants and the flowers are wind-pollinated. The fruit is a fleshy drupe with two little stones, each containing one seed. We will describe some of the more common species in our region, starting with taupata, one of the larger-leaved species, which is unmistakable and can’t be confused with the others.
Origin of the botanical name
Coprosma is derived from the Greek words ‘kopros’ meaning ‘dung’ and ‘osme’ meaning ‘smell’, as one species in particular has an unpleasant smell; ‘repens’ comes from the Latin word ‘repere’ meaning ‘creeping’.
Distribution and habitat
Taupata is endemic and found naturally on Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands, Te Ika a Māui/North Island and on Te Waipounamu/South Island as far south as Greymouth in the west and Rarangi in the east. It is mainly a coastal plant and often forms the main understorey in coastal forest. It is also common on rocks, cliffs and boulder fields near the sea.
Taupata is very adaptable and resilient. It can be a small tree up to 8 m tall with a trunk c. 15 cm diameter in sheltered places, or a small shrub or low prostrate plant in exposed places, even growing in cracks with no apparent soil. The bark is dark to light brown. Older branches are brittle with smooth branchlets. The leaves are thick, almost fleshy, 6-8 × 4-5 cm, very glossy, shining, dark-green above, paler and dull below, broad-oblong to sub-rounded with smooth edges and flat to slightly recurved margins. Leaf-vein reticulations are evident above and especially below. Leaf stalks are 8-16 mm long.
Flowering is from June to February. The small creamy-white flowers are in dense compound clusters, up to 20 per cluster on male plants, and often only three per cluster on female plants. All have protruding parts, typical of wind-pollinated plants. Flowers of the female plants develop orange-red, red (rarely yellow) berries, obovoid and often slightly compressed, 8-12 × 8-10 mm. Birds eat the berries and disperse the seeds.
As Coprosma is related to the coffee genus, the seeds of taupata (and other species with large-enough berries) can be roasted and ground to make a substitute for coffee. The berries have occasionally been eaten by people. Plant fibres were frequently plaited by Māori. Taupata is sometimes used as a hedge plant. Māori tradition suggests that a clump of trees at Maketu, Bay of Plenty, descended from plant material brought on the early waka/canoes.
Where can you find taupata? -
Look for it in coastal habitats of South Wellington, East Harbour Regional Park and Makara.