Hunters, anglers, trampers and rafters are being asked to keep their eyes out this spring for one of our most striking native plants, the critically endangered kakabeak.
Wild kakabeak (clianthus maximus or ngutukākā in te reo) carries heavy bunches of large, curved bright red flowers, and is typically found clinging to cliffs and inaccessible bluff systems. The plants have been decimated by goats, deer, rabbits and other exotic browsers, to the extent that there are now only about 120 naturally seeded plants known to exist in the wild.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) is working with the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, to prevent the extinction of the kakabeak and together, we are appealing for anyone who has sighted the plant this spring to report it to the nearest DOC office.
“We’re asking anyone who sees a plant – and they’re pretty unmistakable – to make a note of the location, preferably using a GPS reader for the most accurate co-ordinates, and to let us have this information as soon as they get back to civilisation,” Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust Forest Manager Pete Shaw says.
Wild kakabeak (Clianthus maximus)
“This is the time of the year when the plants are heavy with spectacular bunches of curved crimson flowers, so it’s an ideal time to spot them.”
DOC’s Kakabeak Recovery Group Leader Don McLean says hunters or trampers who think they’ve spotted kakabeak should also take a photo if they can. “We can tell a lot about the plants from photographs. The more information we have, the better.”
“Working with conservation groups like the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust and getting private individuals on board will help DOC’s efforts to ensure kakabeak’s survival and helps us to keep better records,” Don McLean says.
A recent DOC-led field trip to Ruakituri, a part of inland Hawke’s Bay where only six wild plants had previously been known to exist, yielded 18 more.
“Once we know where these plants are, we can actively manage them to help them thrive in the wild, either by protecting them from goats and other pests, weeding out plants that smother kakabeak seedlings or thinning out the canopy so they have the right light,” Don McLean says.
Although kakabeak are grown widely in gardens, these domestic plants are all derivatives of a few wild plants. They have been interbred and have little or no genetic value. Any new find is significant because it widens the pool of wild-grown seed that can be used in propagation efforts.
The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust is based in Hawke’s Bay and runs the largest kakabeak propagation and restoration programme in the country, funded to a significant extent by DOC and Auckland-based Tasti Foods. It has four seed nurseries which have now produced hundreds of juvenile kakabeak.
“We are making good headway in the drive to bring these plants back from the brink,” Pete Shaw says. “We’ve grown hundreds of seedlings in four specially-designed ‘seed nurseries’ from the seed of wild plants. And we’re planting many of these back in the wild. The rest are planted in our seed nurseries where they will continue to contribute their seed to the recovery programme.”