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Media release: Management of controversial native plant up for debate at Zealandia wānanga
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary
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Media release: Management of controversial native plant up for debate at Zealandia wānanga

Management of controversial native plant up for debate at Zealandia wānanga

Wellington –16 August 2022: Weed, poison or native taonga? Native species experts are gathering this week to learn about and debate on the future efforts to protect a large native tree - the karaka or kōpi.

Karaka or kōpi (Corynocarpus laevigatus) is a large native tree which produces bright orange fruit, which contains a toxic kernel. The plant was able to withstand the harsh climate of Rēkohu (Chatham Islands) and its survival was key in the settlement of the island, resulting in the plant having significant cultural significance there.

Despite being of great cultural significance to Māori and Moriori people, the karaka plant is also considered a weed in some circles due to its ability to rapidly spread and block out sun from other plant species. These differences in value can cause disagreements in the management of karaka.

The wānanga held over Friday 19 and Saturday 20 August will also discuss the impact karaka may have on dogs, as there have been reported deaths in the past due to dogs eating karaka berries.

“We have selected a panel of a wide range of experts to aid a robust discussion around this plant. They will share their perspectives on whether karaka is a weed or a taonga, whether it should be removed and if so, who makes that decision.” says Terese McLeod (Taranaki Whānui), Bicultural Engagement Lead Ranger at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne.

During the two-day wānanga hosted at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne and Ōtari Wilton’s Bush and sponsored by Wellington City Council, experts will cover four main pillars of discussion about the management of the native species, and conservation efforts dedicated to protecting karaka.

It will begin with a kōrero (talk) about the enormous significance of karaka to the people of Rēkohu/Wharekauri/Chatham Islands.

The panel will include Sally Cory, who is a Wellington based veterinarian with over 20 years of clinical experience. She is also Head of Veterinary Services (companion animals) for the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA). She has spent the last decade working predominantly in emergency practice, from where she has had much exposure to karaka berry toxicities in dogs. She will discuss whether autopsies and blood samples can confirm if karaka has been the culprit behind dog poisonings.

“We want to know, do dogs die by eating karaka fruit? How do we know this? There is evidence of kurī (dogs) living with Māori in karaka groves in the past, so how did these animals co-exist with the karaka fruit?” says McLeod. “Is it speculation, theorising or scientific fact and what does historical and contemporary evidence reveal?”

Wellington City Council’s Biosecurity Specialist Henk Louw says: “We do regular reminders to help keep our four-legged friends safe whenever the berries are fruiting, reminding owners they are toxic and can be fatal. Although they are a species we don’t plant, they are abundant and can become invasive, and a discussion around the tree is encouraged.”

The wānanga wraps up on Saturday with a workshop about preparing karaka to make it safe to consume. It can be attended in person and will also be available to attend through Zoom.

Presenters with extensive experience in processing karaka will kōrero about its history, whakapapa and share a step-by-step tutorial on how to forage and prepare the kernels for safe consumption and preservation. 

Register for free here:



For more information contact:

Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne: Gini Letham, Senior Communications Advisor, 020 4010 2430, media@visitzealandia.com

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