Many New Zealanders travelling overseas will have recognised New Zealand plants growing in some places far from home. Some species are well established in gardens, parks and public places around the world. They grow best in regions with a climate like New Zealand’s, such as southern Europe, California or Japan.
Travellers have spotted New Zealand flax in Japan, cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) in Italy, nīkau (Rhopalostylis sapida) along the boulevards of Los Angeles (where they are called ‘feather-duster palms’) and scarlet-flowering pōhutukawa trees (Metrosideros excelsa) in Spain. The Spanish city of La Coruña has adopted pōhutukawa as its floral emblem, and boasts a great tree said to be many hundreds of years old. However, a visiting New Zealand botanist has suggested that it may date only from the time of the Napoleonic wars, when the British army fought a famous rearguard action at La Coruña in 1809 and buried their general there. The tree may have grown from a seed or small plant, possibly from a garden in Britain.
Common natives in Britain and Ireland
Britain has a colder climate than New Zealand, but quite a few natives grow well there. Commonly grown species include kāpuka or broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis – called ‘New Zealand privet’ in Ireland), and many species of senecio, olearia (‘daisybush’), carex (‘New Zealand sedge’) and the ubiquitous hebe.
Hebes in Britain
New Zealand hebes have become standard international garden plants almost like roses or rhododendrons, although they have not yet entirely lost their New Zealand associations. There is a hebe society based in Britain and a horticultural industry breeding new hybrids and cultivars for the international market. Some new varieties have been exported back to New Zealand.
Cabbage tree ‘palms’
New Zealand flaxes, cabbage trees, and tree ferns are particularly in vogue in Britain, perhaps because they seem so exotic there. Cabbage trees are so much a part of the landscape in the south of England that they have become known as Torquay or Torbay palms, and are used in tourist posters to promote Devon as the English Riviera.
Native plants growing overseas often look healthier than those in New Zealand, as they are free from many of the pests and diseases that attack them at home. Cabbage trees overseas do not have their leaves notched by the cabbage tree moth as they do in New Zealand, and pōhutukawa grows well in Spain, where there are no possums to nibble at them.
Some plants are growing well even as far north as the highlands of Scotland, at least along the western coast where the Gulf Stream tempers the climate. There the coastal village of Plockton also makes a feature of its tropical-looking ‘palms’ – actually New Zealand cabbage trees growing very far from home.