In the “Pingao (or Pikao) the Golden Sand Sedge

Pikao is a native sand-binding sedge, coloured a brilliant green and golden yellow or fiery orange. Stunning Pikao stands would have once have been found on almost every sandy beach, from Northland to Rakiura (Stewart Island) and the Chatham's 1,2,3 but is now only found in a few remnant populations or where active replanting programmes have been established.

Pikao is found only in New Zealand and is one of our major native dune builders2. Pikao stabilise the sandy coast by trapping wind blown sand between its leaves and around the base of the plant and the long rope-like rhizomes it sends out2,3. The sand dunes that consequently form are (usually) low, undulating active dunes, allowing continuous sand movement around the plants, which pikao requires to survive2,3.

Pikao is a keystone species. The coastal morphology that pikao created, provided a habitat within which other native coastal species were able to settle, adapt and flourish. Consequently much of our native coastal biodiversity depends largely on the presence of pikao4 to form the coastal geomorphology (beach shape created by geological forces) to which those species are adapted.

Pikao has considerable cultural significance5 and for this reason it is viewed as a good species to foster relations between iwi and the crown in order to meet the obligations under Section 4 of the Conservation Act (1987) "to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi". Pikao's conservation priority status is ranked M, being a species that is rare or localised and of cultural significance to Maori6.

The demise of pikao can be attributed to human activity; fire, grazing and trampling by stock and rabbits, vehicle damage, the introduction of marram grass (a highly competitive sand binding grass7) and the continues pressure and demand for coastal land2,3,8,9,10.

Pikao is slowly being re-established and maintained in small pockets around the country. This is largely due to the hard work and commitment of coast and dune care organisations as well as DOC, territorial authorities and other governmental organisations such as the New Zealand Forest Research Institute via the Coastal Dune Vegetation Network (CDVN).

The future of New Zealand conservation lies with the community as government bodies and NGO's are unlikely to have the resources to support the growing number of conservation problems.

The return of pikao as the major dune plant appearing on our local beaches is far off, but the commitment to manage pikao appropriately exists and all that is required now is YOU!!!


  1. Courtney, S. P. (1983). Aspects of the ecology of Desmochoenus spiralis (A. Rich.) Hook. f. Unpublished MSc Thesis. University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
  2. Bergin, D.O. and Herbert, J. W. (1998). Pingao on Coastal sand dunes. Guidelines for seed collection, propagation and establishment. CDVN Technical Bulletin No. 1. Forest Research Institute, Rotorua.
  3. DoC (1992). Pingao Recovery Plan. Otago Conservancy 1993-1998. Department of Conservation, Dunedin.
  4. Duncan, M. C. (2001). Impacts of Ammophila arenaria on indigenous dune communities in Mason Bay, Stewart Island. Unpublished MSc Thesis. Environmental Science, University of Otago, New Zealand.
  5. Herbert, A. and Oliphant, J. (1991). Pingao: The Golden Sand Sedge. Nga Puna Waihanga, New Zealand.
  6. Molloy, J. and Davies, A. (1994).Setting priorities for the conservation of New Zealand threatened plants and animals. Department of Conservation, Wellington.
  7. DoC (1997). Ecology and management of invasive weeds. Conservation sciences Publication No. 7. Department of Conservation, Wellington.
  8. Bergin, D. O. and Herbert, J. W. (1994). Resoration of native plant communities on sand dunes in New Zealand. Paper for the Forth Annual New South Wales Coastal Management Conference, 18-20 Oct, Gosford, Australia.
  9. Bergin, D. O., FitzSimons, P., Freeman, C., Herbert, J. W. and Kesby, N. A. (1997). Managment of Marram Grass in the Resoration of Indigenous Coastal Dune Vegetation in Australia and New Zealand. Paper accepted for The Pacific Coasts and Parks Conference, 7-11 Sept. Christchurch, New Zealand.
  10. Bergin, D. O. and Herbert, J. W. (1997). Revegetation of Coastal Sand Dunes in New Zealand using Indigenous Species. Combined Australian Coastal Engineering and Ports Conference, Christchurch, New Zealand. 

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