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Going Native
Making use of New Zealand plants

Edited by Ian Spellerberg and David Given
Published by Canterbury University Press

Reviewed by Dorothy - 20/05/05

‘Going native’ is just what an increasing number of New Zealand gardeners are doing as more and more elect to plant New Zealand natives in their gardens. Gardening enthusiasts young and old who are interested in growing New Zealand plants anywhere in the world will find this book a fruitful source of information and continue to dip into it for help as their gardens develop. Such a guide has been needed ever since there has been renewed enthusiasm for using New Zealand native plants, because they can only be grown really successfully by those who have learnt which to choose, where to plant them and how to care for them. Gardeners will be drawn back to this book because of its special qualities.

  • it presents much practical advice in a well-organised layout

  • it uses language easily understood by the amateur in the field

  • its fine illustrations highlight the text

  • it caters for plant use in many contexts

  • the editors and the contributors base their ideas on a wealth of experience.


Going Native


A short overview of the purpose of the book
In the introduction the editors, Ian Spellerberg and David Given, equip readers with some background information about New Zealand plants – the diversity, the history of their use and commonly held misconceptions about them. They also outline the purpose of the book –
To create an awareness of the special nature of our native plants and thereby encourage more widespread planting and appreciation of New Zealand’s unique flora.

Chapters directed to readers’ special interests
Each chapter has a clear focus on a particular aspect of going native. I have summarised their content so that readers of the review will quickly be able to identify how the book can meet their needs. At the end of each chapter there is a list for further reading.

Traditional use of plants by Maori
This section includes reference to the plants brought by Maori, their use of native plants to supplement the kumara which they imported as the staple article of their diet, their use of flax – harakeke (phormium)- plant dyes, timber, and plants for healing and for their scent.

Unique chemicals from plants
These range from St John’s wort which is used as a medicinal herb and lavender oils, to compounds from the pyrethrum daisy which are used in insecticides, and Kauri gum which was dug from swamps in northern New Zealand. Ambergris is needed for use in perfumes, and when it was no longer gathered from the digestive system of sperm whales an alternative was collected from dead logs. Other plant products were used as painkillers or poisons and manuka was valued for the production of antibiotics.

Native plants in art
Probably the plant designs best known internationally are the koru and the silver fern, but Maori life was full of artistic design in painting, carving, tattooing, and weaving. Plants used by Maori include tree-ferns, cabbage trees, and forest trees such as tawa, kowhai, and karaka. Early settlers painting and writing and depicting their new environment often included distinctive trees and plants. They continue to feature in more modern art and writing.

Plants as icons
Here a number of writers comment on the use of plants as icons and plants that are nearly iconic and include a clear chart of Plants with iconic potential, listing them according to their species, description, size and site.

Plants for containers
Information about the choice, siting and care of the plants is illustrated with clear photos. A list of the ten best natives for containers is a good guide for their use.

Native plants for amenity use
This chapter covers choice, climate, site characteristics, drainage and planting objectives. Clear and relevant photographs highlight the main points in the text. Areas discussed include roadside and highway plantings, wetlands and streams.

Restoration planting in schools
This chapter shows the valuable work of restoration being done in a number of schools around New Zealand. This is of value not only because of the benefit to the landscape but because of the enriching experiences of the pupils who are involved. Five students of Kamo Intermediate School, north of Whangarei, tell the story of their school’s native tree planting scheme which first won an award in a competition run annually by the Northland District Council, and then achieved fourth place in the international Volvo Young People’s Environmental Competition in 2002.

Landscape design with natives
The recommendations in this chapter are reinforced by the clear photos of some effective plantings from different areas in the country. There is also an interesting section on Wellington’s Otari Bush Reserve and on the planning and planting at Bush City at Te Papa – an ideal location for telling a wide range of visitors about New Zealand’s native vegetation. We are reminded that design is not just for large areas, but also for small areas like patio gardens, especially in small inner city gardens.

Native plants for shelter
As we see as we travel around the country the initial response to the need for shelter belts has been the planting of fast-growing exotics. However landowners are beginning to realise that there are fast-growing natives which can and are being used. This chapter contains advice on developing a new shelter belt or replacing an existing one.

Beyond the Forest: restoring the ‘herbs’
New Zealand’s herbaceous plants and low shrubs are at risk from the invasion of alien organisms even into remote areas. The serious threats to these plants are discussed, but some positive advice is given. The ‘herbs’ do best in inhospitable environments where exotic competitors fare less well. To assist the survival of such plants we have to appreciate the ecology of particular areas – uplands, freshwater wetlands, hot and dry lands and coastal lands. There is advice for conservationists working in all these areas and for gardeners seeking to conserve the lowland herbaceous vegetation, and the steps to success are clearly set out.

Restoring lowland and coastal habitats
To repair the damage to forest sites three main options are discussed -

  • natural regeneration

  • regeneration using nurse plants

  • revegetation using new or supplementary planting.

For restoration it is important to get to know the plant community and the site - the aspect, exposure, temperature, soil type and moisture level.

Hugh Wilson, Hinewai Reserve Manager, discusses methods of regeneration on the reserve and photos demonstrate the beneficial effect of these measures. Practical advice is given for those working to promote revegetation.

Propagation by seed
Advice for those planning to improve the growth of natives by using seed includes comments on seed quality (with clear photographs), collection, extraction, cleaning and methods of breaking dormancy. Useful recommendations of plants for schools, children’s gardens and town gardening are included.

Propagation by vegetative methods
Vegetative propagation is the production of plants using methods other than seed, and producing clones. These methods and the requirements for success are clearly explained – sources pf propagation material, choosing a propagation medium, and choosing the right equipment and the right method. This practical chapter concludes with a list of recommendations for propagation techniques by species.

Conservation and sustainable use
The possible contributions which private landowners can make to conservation management in New Zealand are discussed under headings of

  • Biodiversity

  • Sustainability

  • Barriers

  • Opposition to ‘using’ indigenous plants under the preservationist approach

  • Status of threatened plants

  • Values and benefits of indigenous plants

  • Managing for sustainable use and conservation

Understanding natural distribution
Those with sufficient botanical knowledge can do a valuable job recording where native plants are found. Check the websites of the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Ecological Restoration Network to find out in which areas little is known about plant distribution and how you can help. Then send in your recordings.

Our plant Diversity: a gardener’s selection
The last chapter, as its name suggests, gives an extensive list to assist gardeners to make appropriate choices of native plants.

The book concludes with impressive profiles of the contributors,

Be sure to check the chapter summaries and see how this book can help you to learn what is involved in going native, understand the problems, and have the courage to play your part in conserving New Zealand’s native plants and expanding their use.

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