November in the forest with Chris Horne and Barbara Mitcalfe
Brachyglottis repanda, Rangiora, Trampers' friend
At the time of writing, large, dense clusters of tiny rangiora flowers in bud are appearing at the margins of bush and scrub, like pale, creamy-green froth, against the large, dark green glossy leaves. By the time you read this, the flowers will have produced seeds, carried by tiny white parachutes, to germinate wherever.
World-renowned botanist/ecologist Leonard Cockayne, (1855 – 1934), expressed surprise to find that among the world's approximately 1,500 members of the daisy (Asteraceae) family, NZ had so many tree and shrub daisies, (e.g. rangiora), an unusual phenomenon because most daisy species are herbaceous.
All daisies have 'composite' flowering parts - they comprise two types of flowers: (1) tiny, com- pacted, disc florets in the centre, and (2) a separate ring of florets, (each with one, large, showy petal), called ray florets, around the outside of the disc. Each type is a complete, functioning flower in itself.
Rangiora occurs in the North Island, and the South Island as far south as Kaikoura and Greymouth. A shrub or small tree, up to 6 m or more tall, it is a colonising species that grows in coastal and lowland forest, forest margins and shrub lands.
Rangiora's medicinal properties were well used by Māori and European settlers alike, the name itself being associated historically with lightness, brightness and health, as in the whakatauki, “Rangiora - he tohu mo te ora, (Rangiora, emblem of life and health)”. Yet, like many other rongoā (medicinal) plants, and other forms of ancient and contemporary medicine, it must be used with knowledge and skill,. For example, it is only the upper, green surface of rangiora leaves that is such an effective antiseptic poultice when bound over wounds, but taken internally, rangiora and its honey, are reputed to be very poisonous. In early times, a gum exuded by rangiora was a popular breath-sweetener when chewed (especially after a meal of whiffy dried shark), but if swallowed it could be fatal.
In some districts, rangiora is still called 'pukapuka', a word which already existed in te reo Māori in early times, meaning 'flat' or 'expanded', referring to the leaves, which can be be as big as 30 x 20 cm. Contrary to some beliefs, 'puka' is not a transliteration of the word 'book'. When pākeha settlers introduced books and paper, Māori extended the epithet 'puka', or the more emphatic 'pukapuka', to refer to these completely new items of communication which so resembled the underside of rangiora leaves.
Because of their size and the softness of the tomentum beneath, the leaves were often used to wrap newborns. - nature's own nappies, you might say. Trampers reckon they are the best-ever Nature Wipe, hence its well-known nickname 'trampers' friend' - don't forget to bury it though.
When off track, trampers may need a way of marking their otherwise unmarked route for a safe return. The judicious use of rangiora leaves laid on the ground, white-side-up, under a stone, or leafy rangiora twigs simply bent over to show their white underside, can be a very useful guide even at night, just as crown fern fronds and silver fern fronds are. Likewise, for an observant tramper following late behind a group, a small stick thrust through a turned-over rangiora leaf or even a message written on its underside, can indicate the direction in which to travel. Rangiora is indeed a tramper's good friend.