Near-extinct tree returned to iwi after battle for survival

10:39 am on 14 August 2019

A tree brought back from the brink of extinction has formally been returned to its iwi in the Far North.

Trust board member of Ngāti Kuri Sheridan Waitai waters newly planted kaikomako on Waiora Marae.

Ngāti Kuri's Sheridan Waitai waters plants a Kaikōmako Manawa Tāwhi on the Waiora Marae. Photo: Manaaki Whenua / Bradley White

The tree - Kaikōmako Manawa Tāwhi or the Pennantia baylisiana - was a lone tree found on Three Kings Island north of Cape Reinga in 1945.

It took more 40 years for scientists to successfully increase the rare tree's numbers.

Far North iwi Ngati Kuri, who's rohe includes the Three Kings Island, has now planted Kaikōmako Manawa Tāwhi around its marae in Waiora.

Sheridan Waitai, executive director of Ngāti Kuri, told Morning Report scientists had used a male harmone to help produce fruit in the female tree, so that seeds could be collected to propagate new plants. She said the trees on the island had been decimated due to human activity.

"The island once-upon-a-time would have been covered in them, but when they introduced goats onto the island in case of shipwreck, that was the only one that survived and it was a female, so it became near-impossible to actually create new life."

Ms Waitai said the Kaikōmako Manawa Tāwhi looked similar to another native tree, the puka, Meryta sinclairii, with its glossy large green leaves.

She said scientists were currently determining what conditions the tree enjoyed and the optimum soil and atmospheric conditions in which the tree was likely to thrive.

"We don't know the conditions out on the island offered the most kind environment to her [the tree]... So we've taken and planted them in several spots between our schools and our marae and we'll go further up, so that we actually learn how we best place her if we were to return more back out to the island."

The iwi intended to replant the island with the native tree at a future date.