For many of New Zealand’s indigenous plants, the Māori name is the ‘common’ name, and English names are rarely, if ever, used; think rimu, tōtara, kauri, pōhutukawa, and mamaku.
Other species have both Māori and English names, but it is the latter that is predominant, at least in my experience. Below are some such examples involving common and likely familiar plants.
Because it is Māori Language Week, perhaps you can look out for these plants and put their Māori name to use. How many can you spot (and name in te reo) this week?!
(Common names are hard to define. Some plants have multiple Māori and/or English names, sometimes with regional variation. Not all are recorded in the mainstream literature. I use the A Dictionary of Maori Plant Names by James Beever (1991, Auckland Botanical Society) as my guide to Māori names for plants.)
tī kōuka, cabbage tree, Cordyline australis
Tī kōuka (sometimes simply tī) is a familiar part of many landscapes around New Zealand. Photo © Leon Perrie.
whauwhaupaku, five finger, Pseudopanax arboreus
Whauwhaupaku is readily recognised by its leaves with (usually) five stalked leaflets. It is common in the North Island, and extends into the South Island, with a southern limit around Dunedin. Photo © Leon Perrie.
tarata, lemonwood, Pittosporum eugenoides
Tarata is a widespread tree that is also common in cultivation, because of its fast growth and lemon-scented flowers. The leaves, when crushed, also smell of lemon. Photo © Leon Perrie.
tawhai, beech, Fuscospora and Lophozonia (was Nothofagus)
Tawhai trees dominate much of New Zealand’s remaining forests, being adapted to cold (or dry) conditions. If you want to be more specific, tawhairaunui can be used for red and hard beech, and tawhairauriki for black and mountain beech. The photo shows silver beech, known simply as tawhai. Photo © Leon Perrie.
porokaiwhiri, pigeonwood, Hedycarya arborea
Porokaiwhiri is a common and widespread small tree. Photo © Leon Perrie.
pāpāuma, broadleaf, Griselinia littoralis
Common in forests of colder areas, pāpāuma (also known as kāpuka) is a small tree now popular in cultivation, for its large, lime-green leaves and for making an attractive hedge! Photo © Leon Perrie.
huruhuruwhenua, shining spleenwort, Asplenium oblongifolium
Finally, because ferns are almost mandatory in my blog posts, here is huruhuruwhenua. Huruhuruwhenua is common in the lowlands of the North Island and northern South Island. Its close relative, paranako (shore spleenwort, Asplenium obtusatum), is common around the coast of the South Island.