Spotted in Saturday’s DomPost, the stunning kowhai ngutu kaka, a.k.a kaka beak or Clianthus puniceus. The article was a little questionable (kaka beak has been nearly extinct in the wild since the 1940s, so there’s hardly any point trying to blame cows or grapes). But it’s nice to see the incredible scarlet flowers get a showing.
It is true however, that the wild population is down to one known plant, on an island in the Kaipara Harbour (which, btw, has no cows or grapes on it). The Maori did their best to move it around the country centuries ago, cultivating it in areas where they lived. Not only was it visually arresting, but the scent was used in body oils. The nectar would have attracted tui, and as a legume it would have contributed to the fertility of the soil.
If it weren’t for its incredible looks, the kowhai ngutu kaka would have died out a long time ago. Luckily, gardener’s have kept this species alive internationally. Like most pretty things, kowhai ngutu kaka is a bit sensitive – weeds, insects, snails, drought, browsing and wind all do damage – and needs the loving hand of a gardener to help it along. The plant is a beautiful reminder of just how important gardeners can be.