March in the hills with Chris Horne, Michele Dickson
Coprosma propinqua agg., Mingimingi, mingi, miki,
Origin of the botanical names
‘Coprosma’ is derived from the Greek words ‘kopros’ meaning ‘dung’ and ‘osme’ meaning ‘smell’, as one Coprosma species in particular has an unpleasant smell; ‘propinqua’ comes from the Latin ‘propinquus’ meaning ‘near, close by’, implying close resemblance to another, e.g., C. propinqua resembles C. parviflora. The suffix ‘agg.’ indicates that there a number of subspecies of the plant. C. propinqua is in the same genus as the two species of karamū and taupata described in the last three issues of the Tramper. Note that the Te Reo names are applied to some other species with small narrow leaves. The Coprosma genus is a member of the coffee family, the Rubiaceae.
Distribution and habitat
C. propinqua is endemic to Aotearoa. It grows on Te Ika a Māui / North Island, on Te Waipounamu / South Island and on Rakiura / Stewart Island. Look for it in coastal to lowland rocky and gravelly places, shrubland, forest, swamps and bogs.
Coprosma propinqua is a shrub or small tree to 6 m tall. The trunk is single or branched from the base and is sometimes flattened or prostrate. The bark may be pale or dark grey and be from smooth to fairly rough. The branchlets are divaricating / intertangled. This feature, exhibited by numerous native species, is believed by some scientists to be a response to browsing by moa; others suggest it developed in response to climate change during the Ice Age, sheltering the leaves from gales, drought and frost. In either case the tiny leaves, 7-16 mm x 2-5 mm, got some protection from the form. A moa would be deterred by the tiny leaves and the entanglement of branchlets – the latter would provide some protection for the leaves from harsh weather. The leaves,10–14 mm x 2–3 mm are opposite, or in opposite bunches, on slender hairy petioles / stalks 1-2 mm long. The leaves are leathery, dark green above and paler below.
The flowers develop on the end of short branchlets; the females are single and the males usually in small clusters, growing on separate plants. The fruit, on the female form of the plant, is usually blue, 8-12 mm x 4-5 mm. Birds eat the fruit and disperse the seeds. Sample the tasty fruit once you’ve identified the plant.
The fruits are edible but their small size means that they don’t provide a meal.
This species can hybridise with other coprosmas, e.g., C. robusta. The result has leaves with an intermediate form, also with rough edges.
Where can you find Coprosma propinqua?
Look for this species in reserves in Wellington city and in the Tararua, Remutaka and Aorangi ranges