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Wellington region's "first fifteen"

Wellington region's "first fifteen"

Updated 16 July 2020 3:48pm

There are many different plants that, in varying combinations, form the vegetation components of the region’s ecosystems.

Distinctive ecosystem types depend on a number of factors, such as soil type and climate. Maintaining the mosaic of ecosystems across the region better ensures the future of a full range of plant and animal species. If you want to restore or enhance a particular area of high value, find out about the ecosystem type and the plants that would typically have been found there.

Some plants have a wide distribution in the region and grow well in a range of ecosystem types. The 15 native plant species listed below are hardy and well-suited to planting in most parts of the Wellington region. For more species you could plant, check out the Wellington Regional Native Planting Guide.


1.            Karamū (Coprosma robusta)

This shrub or small tree has leathery leaves, grows up to six metres tall and is found throughout New Zealand in lowland forests. It is tough, likes open sunlight, and is frost hardy. Summer berries are food for silvereyes, bellbirds, kererū, and tūī. Karamū is extremely good at establishing, even in open pasture, and its hardiness and popularity with birds makes it an excellent revegetation species.


2.            Tarata or lemonwood (Pittosporum eugenioides)

Tarata is a tree which grows up to 12 metres tall and has a strong lemony smell. It has attractive showy flowers in October, followed by distinctive black seed capsules. It is found throughout New Zealand along forest margins and on stream banks from sea level to 600 metres. Tarata is frost hardy and tolerates a wide range of conditions (although it can be vulnerable to drought) and is a useful quick growing restoration plant.


3.            Puahou or five-finger (Pseudopanax arboreus)

Five-finger is a common native tree found from sea level to 760 metres in forests and open scrub from North Cape to Southland. It reaches eight metres in height and has characteristic leaf with five to seven ‘fingers’.


4.            Akiraho (Olearia paniculata)

From the daisy family, this very hardy shrub or small tree grows up to six metres tall, can stand light soils and is found along forest margins and in scrub. Akiraho is mostly a coastal and lowland plant which likes open sunlight and is frost hardy when mature. It is very leafy year-round, with flowers in mid-summer and seeds dispersal in autumn.


5.            Ngaio (Myoporum laetum)

A leafy tree that grows up to 10 metres high, the spreading branches of ngaio shade out under-storey vegetation. It likes open sunlight and is frost hardy when mature, though young plants can also recover from light frosts. Ngaio flowers from mid-spring to mid-summer and the berries ripen through summer and autumn, providing food for bellbirds and tūī.

6.            Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium)

Mānuka is found throughout NZ, mostly in open habitats. It is a fast growing, frost hardy shrub, growing up to four metres tall, which establishes well on disturbed land. Flowers and seed capsules can be present from spring to early winter. The insects that pollinate mānuka are attractive to fantails and other insect-eating birds.

7.            Toetoe (Cortaderia fulvida)

This native grass is tough and likes open sunlight. Toetoe grows up to two metres high within two to three years of planting. It produces distinctive feathery flowers in spring. Toetoe can be planted on the windward side of a planting area to provide quick shelter and it is also a useful streamside plant as its roots help to stabilise stream banks.


8              Kānuka (Kunzea ericoides)

Kānuka is a hardy small tree, growing up to 15 metres tall. When young, kānuka looks similar to mānuka except the leaves are smaller and less prickly. Kānuka bark is light brown, and sheds in long strips. It thrives in open conditions and can withstand wind, frost and relatively dry conditions.


9.            Mānatu or lowland ribbonwood (Plagianthus regius)

Mānatu is a common lowland forest tree of up to 15 metres tall. Unusually for New Zealand’s native trees, it is regularly leafless in winter. Mānatu flowers from mid-spring to mid-summer and has fruit through summer to early autumn. It likes open sunlight and is frost hardy.


10.          Tī kōuka or cabbage tree (Cordyline australis)

An iconic New Zealand tree that reaches up to 20 metres tall, tī kōuka grows along the edges of forests, swamps and river banks.

Tī kōuka is tough, likes open sunlight and flowers in early summer, with berries from mid-summer to mid-autumn. It provides food for bellbirds and tūī and is extremely good at establishing even in open pasture. Damaged trees can sprout new branches.


11.          Māpou or red matipo (Myrsine australis)

Māpou is a closely branched shrub or small tree, growing up to seven metres tall. It has distinctive red branchlets and glands dotting the wrinkled leaves. It is a hardy plant that occurs throughout New Zealand on forest margins.


12.          Makomako or wineberry (Aristotelia serrata)

Makomako is a very common, fast growing semi-deciduous small tree, growing up to ten metres tall. It is found throughout New Zealand, in forests and scrubland, along forest margins and on roadsides. Makomako likes open sunlight and is frost hardy, although it can be vulnerable to drought. Flowers and berries provide food for bellbird, tūī, kererū and silvereyes from spring through to early summer.


13.          Tōtara (Podocarpus totara)

Tōtara is found throughout New Zealand, mostly in lowland forest on fertile, alluvial, well-drained soils. It grows up to 30 metres tall, likes open sunlight, and is frost hardy and attractive to birds. One of the largest trees in the forest, tōtara has been the most prized tree of Māori, with timber that was the best for building massive war canoes and for carving. Tōtara flowers in early summer and its smooth red berries form in late summer. Tōtara trees look good planted in groups.


14.          Kōhūhū (Pittosporum tenuifolium)         

Kōhūhū is a coastal to lower mountain forest tree, growing up to eight metres tall. It is found everywhere in New Zealand, apart from the west of the South Island. Kōhūhū is tough, frost hardy, likes sun and flowers from mid to late spring. Seed capsules mature from mid-summer to early autumn, providing food for bellbirds and tūī.


15.          Koromiko or hebe (Hebe stricta var. atkinsonii)

Koromiko is a common fast growing, hardy shrub with a rounded shape, growing to two metres tall. It is found throughout the North Island, on stream banks, in shrub-land and on the edges of forest remnants. With attractive white flowers in mid to late summer, koromiko thrives in full light and is a useful colonising plant.