Manuka / Tea Tree
Manuka typically grows in the wild either as a pioneer species in disturbed land before larger trees overtake it, or as the main cover where soils are too wet or infertile for larger trees to thrive. Stems are sometimes black and sooty, covered in a fungus that feeds on the sweet excrement of a scale insect. This fungus doesn’t harm the plant.
Manuka was used by early Māori in a phenomenal range of uses, including medicine and tool-making, and early European settlers used the leaves to make tea.
Contemporary uses include making essential oils, export-quality honey, and as a sawdust popular for smoking fish.
A small-leaved shrub growing up to 4m high after a number of years. Leaves are sharp, bark is flaky. The small white flowers produced late autumn through to spring have a dark red centre.
Varieties are also grown which are dwarf, weeping, ground-hugging and of a range of flower colours between white and deep maroon.
A very important plant in revegetation, rapidly forming a light shade beneath which sturdier trees can establish and grow up through. Good also in erosion control and for vegetating an area too infertile for much else to thrive in.
Provides a soft-textured backdrop for visually stronger plants, and makes for good screening.
Plant in autumn without disturbing the roots, and ensure young plants don’t dry out while establishing. Light trimming will keep the plant bushier. Handles frosts and winds. Flowers best in good light.
Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) – Flowers are smaller, leaves are softer, and Kanuka doesn’t carry persistent old seed capsules on its branches like Manuka. Kanuka flowers occur in clusters.
Manuka is one of the most ecologically important plants in NZ. As a pioneer plant, Manuka is quick to establish in soil freshly exposed by erosion. It stabilises the land, while providing a canopy of filtered light for trees to develop under before growing through the canopy and being exposed to harsher conditions. It also supplies nectar to a wide insects for a great extent of the year.
The Meaning of Trees – Manuka
Landcare Research – Maori Plant Use – Leptospermum scoparium
Taranaki Educational Resource – Leptospermum scoparium
NZ Plant Conservation Network – Leptospermum scoparium
NZ Journal of Botany – A Review of Leptospermum scoparium in New Zealand