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Facts about shrubby tororaro

Muehlenbeckia astonii, South Marlborough. Photo: Cathy Jones.
Muehlenbeckia astonii, South
Marlborough

The shrubby tororaro is a very ecologically and culturally significant shrub.

The species acts as an important host for insects. These insects then become a significant food source for many native species of bird and lizard. The tororaro also has valued medicinal properties.

To Maori, these aspects make the shrub a taonga species of cultural and spiritual importance.

The tororaro is a highly unusual plant, and is easily recognized by its interlaced, zigzag branches and lime-green heart-shaped leaves.

Ecology

The shrub produces delicate white flowers during summer and autumn. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants though a few male plants occasionally set seed. Fruits are small and white, possibly making up part of lizards' diet. The plant may grow to 4 metres in height, and lives for up to 80 years.

Habitat

The tororaro has a deep root system that allows it to survive in very dry conditions.

The shrub is commonly found on free-draining, highly fertile areas such as coastal land and river flats. Favoured spots include coastal and alluvial terraces, rocky bluffs and hill slopes.

Muehlenbeckia astonii population map.
Muehlenbeckia astonii population map

Population and range

The tororaro occurs in central and eastern New Zealand. Its distribution extends from the eastern Wairarapa coastline in the North Island, down to Kaitorete Spit in the South Island.

The total population in the wild is estimated to be 2800 plants. The largest population is on Kaitorete Spit, where there are around 2500 plants.

The specialist habitats occupied by the tororaro suggest that it was never abundant in New Zealand.