Three unrelated trees or shrubs with large leaves are among the first plants to colonise bare ground created by events such as forest fires and landslides. These trees are found in forest and scrub throughout New Zealand. All three produce fruit that was valued by Māori and early European settlers.
Makomako – wineberry
The long black stems and heart-shaped light green leaves of wineberry (Aristotelia serrata) often form dense thickets in regenerating forest. It has clusters of attractive rose-pink flowers in spring, followed by red or black edible berries in summer.
Māori children used to feast on the berries, which were also squeezed and strained to make a sweet drink.
Groves of tree tutu (Coriaria arborea) can reach eight metres in height on open sites. Their egg-shaped, dark green leaves grow in opposite pairs on fluted stems. Shiny on top and dull underneath, they can look fern-like. During spring and summer tiny flowers, coloured cream to pink, hang from the branches in long clusters. Purple-black fruit form in late summer and autumn.
Both the seeds and sap of tutu are highly poisonous, resulting in many cattle deaths in the early days of European settlement. After removing the poisonous seeds, Māori prepared a drink from the fruit, which they often boiled with a type of seaweed (rimu). The resulting jelly (rehia) was then fermented.
Kōtukutuku – tree fuchsia
Common in regenerating forest and along stream banks, tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata) is easily recognised by its peeling strips of cinnamon-orange bark and its purple-red flowers. These flowers appear in spring, some with bright blue pollen. Fuchsia is deciduous (shedding its leaves annually), which is unusual in New Zealand’s native trees. Some trees survive to a great age, forming gnarled trunks more than a metre across.
The purplish-black berry (kōnini) is sweet and juicy in summer. A favourite of Māori and kererū (New Zealand pigeons), and now possums, it was also used by European settlers to make jam and puddings.