(previously known as Collospermum hastatum)
Perching Lily / Kahakaha / Widow Maker
A plant that only grows in the crook of tree branches. Named Widow Maker by early colonial loggers, unstable clumps plummeting to the forest floor as a falling tree shook others could easily kill a man who wasn’t wary.
V-shaped leaves channel water into the plant base where it is held to keep the plant fresh during dry spells.
Maori women of the past would decorate their hair with the white downy fibres from the underside of the leaves.
1m x 1m. Flax-like, and only ever found growing as an epiphyte – in the crooks of much larger forest trees. Spikes of hundreds of tony pale-yellow flowers tumble from the centre of female plants, developing to small red fruit in autumn. Leaves are dark red/black at the bases – more easily seen in younger plants before the clump fills out.
Useful as a pot plant in a shaded spot, or attached to pillars or trees in filtered light. Either way, a lush and tropical feel is achieved, similar to that gained by bromeliads.
Like a couple of other strict epiphytes, will grow at ground level where growing on shaded rocks or in VERY free-draining soil. Intolerant of wet feet.
Kowharawhara (Astelia solandri) – leaves M-shaped in cross-section, 2-3.5cm wide and white at their bases.
Narrow-leaved Perching Lily (Astelia microsperma) – leaves are 1-2.5cm wide, rather than Perching Lily’s 5-7cm width.
The Perching Lily provides nectar for gecko species, the short-tailed bat, and an array of forest insects. The fruit is popular with gecko and native birds such as tui and kereru.
Water held in the leaf reservoirs attracts all manner of insects, with one native species of mosquito breeding exclusively in the waters of this plant.