Working together for Pua o Te Rēinga/dactylanthus

Department of Conservation —  15/09/2021

Mana whenua are leading the way in threatened species recovery, writes Alyssce Te Huna, Technical Advisor Ecology based in Rotorua.

By Alyssce Te Huna

3D printed model of a woodrose on a host root caused by Pua o Te Rēinga/Dactylanthus
📷: Alyssce Te Huna, DOC

Last month I attended a Pua o Te Rēinga/Dactylanthus taylorii wānanga/meeting in Wellington at Te Rau Karamū marae, Massey University.

Pua o Te Rēinga is a very unusual plant, and holds a special place in New Zealand’s indigenous flora. It grows as a root-like stem attached to the root of a host tree, and through this attachment draws all its nutrients. Our only native land mammal, pekapeka, the native bat, love Pua o Te Rēinga.

The wānanga at Te Rau Karamū marae was an amazing experience for me, and showed how important it is for Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation to support the work led by others. This mana whenua led kaupapa was the perfect opportunity to support the Minister of Conservation’s priorities (working with whānau, hapū and iwi) and to action the vision of Te Mana o Te Taiao/the Aotearoa NZ Biodiversity Strategy – He Awa Whiria.

I felt excited about the wānanga as I was going into a space that was familiar to me, on a marae with others who thought and felt as passionate I do about Te Taiao/the environment. I was intrigued about what I would encounter at this wānanga, as it was mana whenua led so I was anticipating how we were going to work together and support each other.

Powhiri onto Te Rau Karamū marae
📷: Alyssce Te Huna, DOC

In October 2020, Taranaki Whānui, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Rangitāne o Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungungu ki Wairarapa, Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngā Hapū o Ōtaki alongside staff from Ōtari-Wiltons Botanic Gardens (Wellington City Council), Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne and Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation met together and organised a haerenga/journey to Pureora Forest where they were welcomed by the hau kāinga, Ngāti Rereahu.

he result was the formation of a relationship where two kaitiaki were supported by the iwi and ohu/group to allow the safe passage of taking some precious kākano/seeds back to Wellington, and specifically Ōtari Wilton Gardens and Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne for research.

This whakakāinga anō / research project formed a bond of great significance between the whānau of Pureora Forest and the respective Wellington iwi/organisations involved.

Throughout the wānanga, I witnessed this bond between all iwi and tāngata tiriti who have been on this journey together, the aroha and cooperation between one another was palpable. Mana whenua partnered with Ōtari-Wilton’s Botanic Garden’s, Zealandia, Wellington City Council and Te Rau Karamu Massey marae to fund and prepare the wānanga. Other partners were invited to attend including Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation, and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The purpose of the wānanga was for the rōpu to come together and reflect and discuss. We covered reflections on a previous whakakāinga anō/ research project in which they sowed Pua o Te Rēinga to better understand the plant, discussed how to establish a formal ohu/group that is fully represented by all six mana whenua in the Greater Wellington Region; and how best to partner with tāngata tiriti. We also talked about the classification and relationship of the plant to its host (there was lively kōrero, is it really a parasite and what actually is a parasite?).

Several knowledgeable people who have been working with Pua o Te Rēinga for sometime were invited by mana whenua to share their experiences, Graeme Atkins, Avi Holzapfel, Karin van der Walt and David and Bethly Mudge. One highlight was that our own Graeme Atkins remarked that in his 20+ years advocating for this plant in this rōpū he found his audience for the first time!

We were also the guests of Taranaki Whānui and Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne on night tours and at Ōtari-Wiltons Bush where we experienced taonga puoro. On the Sunday morning we were invited to open the new Pua o Te Rēinga exhibition at Zealandia – if you are based in Wellington, or in Wellington visiting, go and have a look!

The Pua o Te Rēinga exhibition is now open at Zealandia
📷: Alyssce Te Huna

At our wānanga I saw that mana whenua were demonstrating to the motu/nationwide how we do conservation differently including translocations and planning for species recovery.

This can be done by supporting mātauranga Māori experts to embed a new approach through tikanga Māori on the national stage, and to reimagine the way we care for Te Taiao through a ‘Pua o Te Rēinga’ approach. I could really see that all the rōpū needs is increased support and resources to mana whenua to be able to recruit more skilled staff and upskill rangatahi, more of these expansive projects will be carried out in future for the benefit of the whole motu. As soon as I entered the wānanga I was hit with the goosebumps as I quickly realised I was witnessing something special and to be invited to participate was a privilege and an exciting kaupapa/project for Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation to be involved in.

I would like to especially thank Terese McLeod (mana whenua), Aaria Dobson-Waitere (mana whenua), Bart Cox (Wellington City Council), Graeme Atkins (Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation), Avi Holzapfel (Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation) and Gemma Wright (Te Pāpā Atawhai/Department of Conservation) for their contributions to this article.

To see Pua o Te Rēinga in action, check out this video about pekapeka: