TOUMATOU-KURU, Wild Irishman
This prickly, sometimes leafless plant is the dominant shrub in tussock grasslands and shrub-lands of the mountain valleys, and river beds to the east of the South Island Main Divide. Although plentiful now, it was much more so before extensive fires destroyed it to make way for sheep in the tussock grasslands. It is also found on the sand dunes of the North Island southwards from the North Waikato Heads and in some dry localities inland. This plant is also known as matagouri.
It grows to a maximum height of 20 ft where conditions are favourable, but is reduced to a low scrambling shrub on rocky outcrops and other inhospitable habitats. Branches are opposite and many of the shoots are reduced to green spines which are brown tipped. When these die they become hard and bony and were sometimes used by the Maoris for tattooing. Under lush growing conditions, plants can be quite leafy and lack spines. In general, however, leaves are sparse or almost absent, being most plentiful in spring and becoming less as the season wears on. They are linear-ovate and about half an inch long or slightly more. Flowers are very small, greenish-white, and appear in fascicles in the axils of the spines.
The genus Discaria contains about 15 species, all of which are South American except D. toumatou in New Zealand and D. australis in Australia and Tasmania. These two species are very closely related. The New Zealand species is noted for its root nodules which have been the subject of recent study.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.