Mānuka or kahikātoa (Leptospermum scoparium), called ‘tea tree’ by Captain Cook, is a rather variable plant ranging from flat creeping forms and small shrubs to tall trees (up to 10 m tall).

Where are they found?

Mānuka/kahikātoa is common throughout the North, South and Stewart Islands in lowland to low alpine regions up to 1800 m above sea level. It can be found in many different habitats including wetlands, river gravels and dry hillsides. When mature, it is very tolerant of drought, waterlogging, strong winds and frost and it can grow at less fertile, colder, wetter and more acidic sites than kānuka.

Quick facts

Early settlers battled hard to clear their land and regarded mānuka/kahikātoa and kānuka as invasive shrubs that undid all of their hard work. Today however, these plants can act as an important tool for re-vegetating bare, eroded slopes. By creating shade and shelter from the wind, they provide an excellent nursery for other, slower growing native plants. Then, as these other plants get taller and overtop them, the mānuka/kahikātoa and kānuka die away as a result of being shaded.
Unlike many other native plants, mānuka/kahikātoa and kānuka are not usually eaten by browsing animals like sheep, cattle and goats. This is another reason that these plants are useful in restoration projects.
The hard, red wood of mānuka/kahikātoa was widely used by Māori for everything from paddles, weapons, spade blades, bird spears and mauls to house building. The bark was used for making water containers and the inner bark as a waterproof layer for roofing.
Captain Cook and early settlers called mānuka/kahikātoa ‘tea tree’ because they used the green leaves to make a substitute for tea. They also brewed twigs from this plant with rimu to make beer.
Mānuka/kahikātoa flowers smell very sweet and they provide an important source of pollen and nectar for native bees, flies, moths, beetles and geckos.

With thanks to the Department Of Conservation as the source for this information and images


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