If you’re on the east coast of the North Island during this spring and summer, the Department of Conservation would like your help! Please look out for wild plants of the striking, red-flowered kakabeak.
Kakabeak (kowhai ngutu-kākā, Clianthus maximus) is now Critically Endangered. Its biggest threat is introduced browsing mammals, particularly goats.
There are only about 150 wild plants from East Cape to Waikaremoana to Hawke’s Bay. The Department of Conservation would like to find more, and protect them. There’s a predictive theory in conservation that the bigger the population, the more genetic variation it will have, and therefore the more robust its chances of long-term survival, particularly in the face of environmental change.
Flowering time is the best time to spot kakabeak, with its vivid red flowers allowing it to be spotted from a distance!
While kakabeak plants are common in cultivation, their genetic variation is of course only a subset of the known wild plants. The Department of Conservation hopes to find more wild plants.
Kakabeak is a relative of kōwhai, in the pea family of flowering plants.
Kakabeak in Te Papa’s collection
Amongst Te Papa’s collection is a specimen of kakabeak collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during Captain Cook’s first expedition to New Zealand, 1769-1770. This belongs to the closely related species Clianthus puniceus. This kakabeak species is presently even rarer in the wild, known from a single island in Kaipara Harbour.
There is also a black and white engraving based on a drawing by Sydney Parkinson during that voyage.
Banks and Solander collected many plants while they were in New Zealand, but didn’t venture far inland. Māori valued kakabeak as an ornamental, so it is possible that Banks and Solander collected their specimen from a coastal village during their visits to the north-east of the North Island.
Find spiders and ferns for Te Papa
Alongside keeping your eyes peeled for kakabeak for the Department of Conservation, Te Papa will soon be asking you to search for spiders and ferns.
This December, we’ll be opening the DeCLASSIFIED! Nature’s secrets exposed at Te Papa. This will showcase some of the recent discoveries by Te Papa’s scientists.
But we’ll also be asking you to share your discoveries of spiders and ferns in an accompanying citizen science programme, using the NatureWatch NZ website. Stay tuned!