By Michael Tapp, Partnerships Ranger in New Plymouth
A old photo hangs on the wall at Moturoa School in Taranaki. The picture shows Arbor Day in June 1934, with the entire school assembled to watch the mayor plant a puriri tree.
These days Moturoa students plant their own trees on Arbor Day – rare Taranaki coastal varieties that had once all but disappeared from the region.
Arbor Day is a busy time for Moturoa kids. In fact, by the time they’ve sourced seed and cuttings from their school gardens, nurtured the seedlings, and planted them in rural and urban plots across the region, Arbor Day has turned into a couple of months.
Moturoa school’s conservation work began in 1996 when the local Rotary group and Port Taranaki funded a Trees for Survival propagation unit.
The first year saw the group growing small seedlings. Pretty soon, they moved into focusing on threatened plants.
Bringing back the koheriki
Bill Clarkson was the Deputy Principal at Moturoa School when the Trees for Survival programme began.
Bill’s brother Jim worked for DOC. He sourced six seeds from what was thought to be the last koheriki plant – a woody shrub that once grew along the Taranaki coast on rocky banks, steep cliffs and beside streams. Possums and cows had wiped out almost every plant by the time Jim rescued those six precious seeds.
With Bill, the Moturoa students grew six koheriki plants at school, then propagated hundreds of new seedlings from the original six.
Over the years the students have helped DOC rangers plant koheriki in many of its original habitats. There’s kohekiri at Maitahi Scientific Reserve and it also grows along New Plymouth’s coastal walkway and in South Taranaki, where it had disappeared.
Growing pinatoro to feed the ‘Taranaki’ moth
The students also grow pinatoro and again, their work is based on a real need.
The rare local moth Notoreas ‘Taranaki’ depends on pinatoro. They lay their eggs among the buds and, as the larvae grow, they feed on the leaves and buds. Without the host plant, the little moth would become extinct.
A lasting love of native plants
Some kids go on to be real stars of the plant world. They join the native plant group, take public tours of the school gardens and set up displays along places like the Coastal Walkway.
By the end of Year 8 they’ll know the scientific names of all their plants and a lot more.
Moturoa School is proud of its plant programme. It’s highlighted in the school foyer with photos and awards.
An award from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network for rare species work takes pride of place.
1500 plants went in the ground last year and most of them were classified as threatened.
The puriri planted by the mayor in 1934 is gone now. The school grew faster than the tree and a classroom now sits on the site.
The puriri was replaced and it’s still there, but for these kids it isn’t quite as special as the local coastal plants they are helping to ensure the survival of.