Twisting and climbing through the forest, kareao is intertwined with mythology and human survival in Aotearoa.
Legend tells us that Māori demigod Māui defeated the divine eel Tunaroa in battle. Kareao is said to have grown from where Māui cast his opponent’s severed tail, the berries shining red with the eel atua/spirit’s blood. Hīnaki/basket-like traps woven from bendy kareao still catch Tunaroa’s descendants today.
Flexible kareao stems were valuable tying material for fences, houses and canoes, and made strong ladders to climb cliffs, trees and enemy palisades.
During summer, kareao tips can grow 5 centimetres a day, enabling the plant to climb high up into the forest canopy where it develops branches and leaves.