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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Native Plants of Aotearoa by Carlos Lehnebach and Heidi Meudt

Native Plants of Aotearoa, written by two Te Papa botanists, Carlos Lehnebach and Heidi Meudt, is part of the new Te Papa Te Taiao Nature Series. This charming little book, with its decorative cover, was designed by award-winning designer Tim Denee.

The many beautiful historical illustrations are based on sketches from fresh plant specimens collected by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on board HMS Endeavour during the 1786-71 expedition. It is well worth buying this book just for the pleasure of looking at these!

In the introduction it tells how the botany collection at The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (almost 300,000 dried pressed plant specimens and still being added to) is one of the largest collections at the museum. Its origins go back to 1865. As well as sharing this collection for research purposes, the museum also tells the stories of the specimens through exhibitions and books.

Fifty of our most interesting and commonly encountered plant species are included in Native Plants of Aotearoa, ferns first, followed by herbs, vines and finally, shrubs and trees. On each double page spread one plant’s habitat and distribution is described as well as some intriguing and quirky facts about how it was used and valued. On the facing page, is the illustration.

Many of our native plants were widely used by both Māori and Pākehā. Māori used the leaves of Pate, 7 finger, as an antifungal medicine, the wood was used for fire starters, building and craft materials and the fruits were used in a dye. Koromiko leaves were shipped to Europe as a popular treatment for dysentery for soldiers during World War Two. And Kawakawa, an important medicinal plant for Māori, is these days also used in tea, chocolate, ice-cream and even gin! I was also surprised to learn that Karamū was once investigated as a local alternative to coffee beans in the late 19th century, but nothing came of that. The authors surmise this might have been because its scientific name Coprosma means ‘smells like dung’!

Native Plants of Aotearoa is a written in a very accessible style, in which the authors have aimed to reduce the number of scientific terms and jargon. But a very short glossary at the back has been added to explain those technical terms that could not be avoided.

In the introduction it says that:

Each of us has a duty to be a kaitiaki or guardian of our native flora , which includes observing plants , learning about them, and sharing our knowledge , and doing our bit to protect them and their habitats.

This book can certainly help with that! As it is a small and sturdy hardback it would be perfect to carry with you when you are out and about exploring our natural environment with whanau or friends.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Te Papa Press


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