Our special species: mānuka
Hear from Kaikōura zone delivery lead Kevin Heays as he shares his thoughts on one of the region’s special species, mānuka.
Most of us instantly think ‘firewood’, ‘honey’ or ‘pest’ when we hear the word ‘mānuka’ but this native plant has more benefits than just sugar in the belly and branches on the burn pile.
Once abundant across the Kaikōura Plains, there’s now little of this super plant left locally. Clearing land for animals, pasture, houses, businesses, gardens and felling for firewood have all significantly diminished our local stock of mānuka – something we need to work together to change.
Mānuka – a prickly plant with plentiful biodiversity benefits
Mānuka can be found in a variety of landscapes - wetlands, river gravels and dry hillsides just to name a few. When mature, it is very tolerant of drought, waterlogging, strong winds and frost and it can grow at less fertile, colder, wetter, and more acidic spaces.
Both mānuka and kānuka are great species to reduce erosion through bank stabilisation. They also contribute to water quality improvement in streams and rivers – helping filter runoff and provide shade for the water, and their flowers are an important source of pollen and nectar for native bees, flies, moths, beetles, and geckos.
They are a great plant to help with native regeneration - providing shade and wind shelter for smaller native seedlings in their understory. They aren’t usually eaten by animals like sheep, cattle, or goats, and as the other native species grow beneath them they die away and leave room for the naturally regenerating bush.
History of mānuka
Mānuka has played an important role in New Zealand’s history. Different parts of the plant have been used for tea, tools, dyes, splints, medicines, fencing, building, firewood, smoke flavour, and even to make beer and to flavour gin!
Although traditionally thought of as an invasive weed to some, and often felled for firewood, its role in the environmental, cultural, and societal history of Aotearoa indicates its usefulness and importance.
Garden star and protecting the plant
Mānuka is hardy as anything and can grow in tricky climates, soil types and soil steepness, which makes it a great option for your garden. It’ll help attract bees, will flower throughout the year, and is evergreen, so shouldn’t drop its leaves during the winter months.
They aren’t usually targeted by pests, so they’re a great option if you’re wanting low maintenance.
It’s important to make sure you eco source your garden mānuka, so you give it the best possible chance at surviving in the local climate.
During firewood harvesting season, our local stock dwindles even more.
Even though mānuka burns well, I ask that you refrain from using the native species as your first choice. Leaving mānuka to grow naturally supports wider biodiversity regeneration.
Options for manuka on your farm
If you’d like to discuss options for protecting and enhancing some mānuka on your property, get in touch by calling 03 319 5781.