Plant of the Week: Rewarewa

So in addition to running as a Green candidate in this year’s election, I am also a budding botanist and evolutionary biologist. I never really was that much into plants. As a child I lived in a small rural community in the Bay of Plenty, with an amateur horticulturist for a father and a local kaumatua who gave all of the kids at Whakamarama Primary School a crash course in identifying native plants for the competition held annually as part of Calf Club. Now, however, I have a lot more time for them. I have written about them a bit at my other blog, although I have been a bit too busy to write there. New Zealand’s plants are really neat; we have some quirky ones, some rare ones, some unique to these isles and others found around the Pacific and the world.

Anyway, one of my most anticipated events has started to happen: the blooming of my favourite New Zealand native, and this week’s plant of the week:

Rewarewa – Knightia excelsa – New Zealand Honeysuckle

Rewarewa is a beautiful woody species in the Proteaceae family, a Gondwanan family that includes the Proteas from South Africa and the Grevilleas, Hakeas, Banksias and Waratahs from Australia. Rewarewa is the only member of the Proteaceae that currently exists in New Zealand, despite the fossil and pollen records indicating that they were once diverse and abundant here, having probably been wiped out as part of the last glaciation period.

Rewarewa has wonderfully imposing leaves – long, stiff and serrated – and the most beautiful wood. The real treasure, however, are its flowers. They are very characteristic of the more recent Proteaceae. The thing I love about them is that you can often walk past the trees when they are flowering and not notice, because they tend to bloom inside the tree. Rather than being on the outside of the plant at the ends of the branches the flowers, which a deep velvety crimson that lighten as they mature, are clustered at the base of the branches and thus often hidden by the leaves. They are currently blooming all along Mt Eden Road in Auckland, on my cycle way to University. They are just so precious, and remind me that spring is on its way…

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