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Unitec supports Iwi crusade to save Roimata o Tōhe shrub

Unitec’s School of Environmental and Animal Sciences is working alongside far north Iwi, Te Roroa and the Department of Conservation to help them prevent the extinction of the Roimata o Tōhē shrub.


Unitec’s School of Environmental and Animal Sciences is working alongside far north Iwi, Te Roroa and the Department of Conservation to help them prevent the extinction of the Roimata o Tōhē shrub.

Roimata o Tōhē have only ever been found in one area near the summit of Maunganui which is also a waahi tapu (sacred place) for Te Roroa located at the northern end of Ripiro Beach.

Coastal tracks running along the north to south margins of the cliff faces have led to the subsequent and almost irreparable damage of the shrub throughout the years. 

school of Environmental and Animal Sciences Associate Professor, Peter de Lange says the tracks implemented by the former Lands and Survey Department administering Maunganui as a scenic reserve didn’t recognise or pay any regard for sites of significance to Te Roroa.

de Lange says “It was the track however, that not only lead to the rediscovery of Roimata o Tōhē by botanists, but probably also to its decline, as the track allowed feral goats easy access to the population and also, ironically botanists who then collected it.”

Te Roroa now co-manage Maunganui which was returned to iwi as part of its treaty settlement, as a result Te Roroa have taken the initiative to ensure the protection of biodiversity and spiritual values in the area.

Central to this approach is the restoration of Roimata o Tōhē and protocol around gathering and preserving samples has been established and led by a team of experts including Associate Professor Peter De Lange, Taoho Patuawa (Te Roroa) and Andrew Veale.

“A protocol controlled by Te Roroa for genetic sampling, cultivation and restoration of the species was prepared and agreed to. Cuttings taken from wild plants have been raised by the Auckland Botanic Gardens who hold them on behalf of Te Roroa, DNA sampled from the plants remains the property of Te Roroa and Te Roroa decide on management direction, “says de Lange.

The ongoing work aligned to this project has seen a number of areas for further research arise including assessing and better understanding the whakapapa (genealogical) ties of plants similar to Roimata o Tōhē which have been located in the area and along the cliffsides of Maunganui Bay. 

de Lange says “Central to this whole project has been the ako gained by respectful korero with all parties. Te Roroa have led that process to the benefit and understanding of all concerned. We all recognise that ‘extinction is forever’; the future security of Roimata o Tōhē is still in its infancy but the mutual blending of genetics, ecology, horticulture and matauranga have this plant in a better condition than it was prior to Te Roroa becoming involved in their taonga plant.”

More information on Roimata o Tōhe

The cliff faces of Maunganui are home to a range of nationally uncommon plants including the red-flowered Titirangi (Hebe speciosa), a small creeping button dairy, Leptinella rotundata and a small-leaved Kowhai, Sophora fulvida. There is one plant so far only known from Maunganui, Roimata o Tōhē (Pimelea eremitica).

Roimata o Tōhē was described in 2009 as Pimelea eremitica by a retired, University of Canterbury ecologist, the late Colin Burrows. Burrows had recognised the plant as a new species from herbarium specimens held in the Auckland Museum and Allan Herbarium.

He placed the plant in the genus Pimelea (pinatoro) and chose the species name ‘eremitica’ from ‘eremos (Εμείς θα)’– a Greek word meaning ‘solitary’. That act however, did not recognise the significance of the plant to Te Roroa who hold mana whenua over Maunganui, nor their special relationship to this plant which they had named after their paramount ancestor Tohe.

Roimata o Tohe is a small shrub that rarely gets any taller than 1 m in cultivation and much less in the wild. Like all Aotearoa Pimelea it has white flowers. The relationships to other members of the Pimelea whanau is as yet unknown. What is known is that this little shrub is nearly extinct. 

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