Kiwi carrot (in a box): New Zealand’s native carrot on display

Kiwi carrot (in a box): New Zealand’s native carrot on display

Why is a specimen of New Zealand’s indigenous carrot on display at Te Papa for the next few months? Curator of Botany Leon Perrie explains.

Among the most significant plant specimens in our care are collections made in 1769-1770 from Aotearoa New Zealand by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. This was during James Cook’s first expedition into the Pacific.

You can see a specimen that travelled on the Endeavour in Te Taiao | Nature. It is accompanied by a print that was begun by the expedition’s artist Sydney Parkinson. They are in the far corner of Te Taiao’s lounge Te Whare Rākau | Treehouse (map). Because the specimens are light sensitive, they are displayed in a special box, and each is exhibited for only three months.

We’ve just added the new specimen and artwork to be displayed – the New Zealand carrot.

A display cabinet made of wood with a screen embedded on the top of it. Above the cabinet is a framed drawing of a green leafy plant.
Te Taiao | Nature’s display of material from the Endeavour expedition, currently featuring the New Zealand carrot. The light-sensitive specimen is sheltered in the box, with the print above it. Photo by Leon Perrie, Te Papa

The New Zealand carrot

You may not have known that Aotearoa New Zealand has a native carrot, Daucus glochidiatus – it’s rather unprepossessing. But it’s in the same genus, Daucus, as the familiar cultivated carrot Daucus carota.

A close up view of grass and small plants and twigs
Small plants of the New Zealand carrot, Daucus glochidiatus, among the undergrowth. Photo courtesy of Marley Ford

The native species is in trouble, with an At Risk conservation ranking. You could be forgiven for thinking the problem involved the many introduced herbivores, but the book Threatened Plants of New Zealand attributes the decline to being out-competed by the exotic rat’s tail grass.

Long grass and dry grass on the edge of a path with a fence and cattle stop in the background.
Rat’s tail grass, Sporobolus africanus – carrot killer-competitor? Photo by Lara Shepherd CC BY

Distinguishing carrots

The iconic orange colour of supermarket carrots was developed in cultivation as recently as the 17th century. Moreover, the edible taproot is the result of thousands of years of selection by gardeners.

Wild forms of Daucus carota do not have an enlarged taproot, and such plants have been introduced to Aotearoa New Zealand, where they are widespread, especially in the north and east.

A split image of two specimen cards with dried specimens taped to them and scientific notes and stamps on the lower half of the cards.
The indigenous Daucus glochidiatus (left) is smaller and has an untidy clustering of flowers compared to the introduced Daucus carota (right). Note the unappetising roots. WELT SP095232 and SP086904, Te Papa CC BY 4.0

Another relative that has established in Aotearoa New Zealand is the parsnip palm Daucus decipiens (the latter word meaning deceiving) of Madeira, an island in the North Atlantic.

Big leafy green shrubs with flowers at the top of the plant like they're vegetable plants going to seed.
The 1-2 m size of parsnip palm, Daucus decipiens, is difficult to reconcile with garden carrots. Regardless, it is now cloaking weedy banks and roadsides in several parts of Wellington, and seemingly increasing aggressively. Photo by Leon Perrie CC BY

The hedge parslies (Torilis) have similar leaves and flowers to wild plants of Daucus carota. But the latter has pinnate (divided fern-like) leafy bracts under the flower clusters, while Torilis has undivided or no leafy bracts.

And don’t confuse wild carrot with hemlock Conium maculatum, the poisonous plant used to execute Socrates. The leaf stalks of hemlock are hairless with red blotches.

Taramea – New Zealand carrot relatives

Among the indigenous relatives of the New Zealand carrot is the genus Aciphylla, also known as taramea and the misleading speargrass (while the leaves are sometimes spear-like, the plants are carrot relatives, not grasses). I’m fortunate to be spending part of this summer helping to collect samples for an investigation of the number of species. There are about 40 species, but the boundaries between many of them are unclear.

The gallery above shows some of the diversity of taramea Aciphylla in Aotearoa. Blog posts about our fieldwork and study of these fascinating plants will be forthcoming.

A spiky plant stem lying on grey rocks with a very spiky head that is like a ball of spikes.
Many Aciphylla have sharply-pointed, stiffened, skin-piercing leaves. This is presumably a defence against avian browsing by the likes of moa. However, it is not working well against introduced mammals. Pigs regularly uproot even large plants of Aciphylla squarrosa on the hills west of Wellington, to get at the roots. This means Aciphylla squarrosa var. squarrosa is regarded as Regionally Threatened. Photo by Leon Perrie CC BY

Carrot miscellany

  • The New Zealand carrot is also indigenous to Australia where it is known as… the Australian carrot.
  • A cultivated carrot in a box was the basis for one of the greatest mind games of recent times. RIP Sean Lock. Viewer discretion advised.


  1. An excellent blog; thank you!

  2. Anthriscus caucalis is another species that has caused me some confusion when looking for Daucus glochidiatus

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