November in the hills with Michele Dickson, Chris Horne
Veronica stricta var. stricta, Koromiko,
Origin of the botanical names
Veronica is the Latin name of a legendary female saint and the name of the daughter of H. G. Fell, Professor of Zoology at Victoria University of Wellington in the 1940s; stricta comes from the Latin word strictus meaning erect, stiff, narrow and very straight. The Veronica genus was named in 1846. Later it was renamed Hebe and recently reverted to Veronica. There are about 105 species of Veronica in our flora – our largest genus of flowering plants. Koromiko belongs to the Plantaginaceae family.
Distribution and habitat
Koromiko is endemic to Aotearoa. It is grows on Te Ika a Maui/North Island and in Nelson, Marlborough and North Canterbury on Te Waipounamu/South Island. Look for it from coastal areas to the bush-line and sometimes to 1000m above sea-level, also in shrub-land, on cliffs and on forest margins.
Koromiko is a shrub up to 4 m tall with many widely spaced branches. The bark is grey. The rather thin, lance-shaped leaves are 2-13 x ca. 4.5 cm - often several times longer than wide. They taper gradually to the tip and more rapidly to the base. They are slightly leathery, are not shiny and may have widely spaced tiny teeth. They are arranged in opposite pairs of four ranks, giving a characteristic regular appearance to the shoots.
The white or pale mauve flowers are ca. 3 mm in diameter. They grow in the axils where the leaves grow on branchlets. The groups of tiny flowers have been likened to bottle brushes. The pleasantly scented flowers appear in late summer and the fruit in autumn. The seed capsules are ca. 3 x 2 mm. The seeds which are ejected when the pods decay are wind-dispersed and germinate easily.
Bruised leaves have been used in a poultice to treat ulcers, boils, bladder and kidney ailments, STDs and headaches. The astringent nature of the young leaf tips has been known to generations of Māori as a cure for diarrhoea and dysentery. Quantities of leaf tips were sent to Māori troops serving in the Middle East in World War Two and soon the Pākehā troops demanded supplies to cure them of these diseases. The flowers produce a light-yellow honey. Early colonists valued the wood because it is elastic and tough and makes good firewood.