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Media release: Native parasitic plant seeds germinate in Wellington, providing hope for future

Media release: Native parasitic plant seeds germinate in Wellington, providing hope for future

Wellington – 19 July 2021: New Zealand’s only fully parasitic plant has been successfully germinated at the Lions Ōtari Native Plant Conservation Laboratory in Wellington. The milestone germination was of rare seeds gifted from Ngāti Rereahu in the first translocation to involve all six Greater Wellington iwi.

Dactylanthus germination

Dactylanthus seed germinating at Lions Ōtari Native Plant Conservation Laboratory in Wellington. Photo: Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush

Pua o te Rēinga/dactylanthus (Dactylanthus taylorii) is a plant which lives under ground and relies on a host tree for most of its nutrients. This species is endangered due to habitat loss, poaching and introduced mammal species.

The pua o te Rēinga seeds were being kept in outdoor conditions in soil, which provides hope for the same set of seeds planted in Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush and Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne last year.

Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush has several rare native seeds that are stored in a seed bank as insurance in case anything happens to the wild population. A key part of this work is learning how to germinate the seeds so they can be grown if they are ever needed.

Karin van der Walt, Conservation & Science Advisor at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush, says, “These first germination signs are significant as we can now start to get an idea of what environmental cues are needed to break dormancy in pua o te Rēinga seeds. We now know that the seeds do not require the presence of a host plant to germinate and over the next couple of months we will see how these germinated seeds attach to the host plant.

“Pua o te Rēinga can take more than five years before they appear above the ground. The seeds that germinated were mostly in petri dishes kept under natural conditions, which enables us to draw some conclusions about seeds growing in the wild,” says van der Walt.

“The germination also allows us to quantify seed viability after treatments like freezing, which is an essential step in long-term seed banking.”

These seeds were gifted from Ngāti Rereahu in the first translocation to consist of all six Greater Wellington iwi, in October 2020. A number of seeds were kept for research, but most were planted in Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush and Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne.

Translocation of dactylanthus seeds in 2020. Photo: Manaaki Barrett

The germination is timely, as iwi representatives will meet in August in Wellington for a three-day wānanga about their future in the conservation of this rare species.

Kaitiaki of the plant, Gemma Wright (Taranaki Whānui, Ngāti Maniapoto), says “The news of the germination came at a time when the core group had our first hui to organise a wānanga with the rōpū Kaitiaki who brought the seeds down last year. He tohu!

“It called us back again to continue our shared learnings for this taonga. It reminded me of its need to be resilient and to persevere in order to live which reflects the journey we as a rōpū Kaitiaki are embarking on and will face to tiaki (look after) this taonga.”

The wānanga will be held at Te Rau Karamu Marae at Massey University. Across three days there will be experts sharing their mātauranga around the plant, future conservation planning from the rōpū and ending with an exhibition opening about the initial translocation at Zealandia.

Terese McLeod, Lead Ranger of Bicultural Engagement at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne (Taranaki Whānui), says “This germination is just a piece of the puzzle and is a sign for us to keep going. The wānanga is a gathering of legends, people who are experts in this particular plant and space.  The plant is not only advocating for itself but also for other endangered species and for this multi-lateral iwi approach to its conservation.”



For more information contact:

Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne: Lead Ranger, Science Communication, Gini Letham: 02040102430, media@visitzealandia.com

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