Posted: 07 September 2009
Investigation into mystery Whāngārei plant
Local authority biosecurity staff are hoping an overseas expert will be able to shed some light on the identity of a mysterious plant discovered growing wild in publically-owned forest in Whangarei.
A Northland Regional Council (NRC) Biosecurity Officer recently came across the sprawling vine – an apparently unknown species of passionflower or passionfruit – on Whāngārei District Council-owned forest in the Kamo area.
The mystery passionfruit-like plant found in Whāngārei and which the Northland Regional Council is hoping an overseas expert can positively identify.
Don McKenzie, the Regional Council’s Biosecurity Senior Programme Manager, said the staff member took a sample of the plant, but other than establishing it was some sort of Passiflora (passionflower or passionfruit) New Zealand-based experts had subsequently been able to tell the NRC little more about it.
Mr McKenzie says it appears to be the first time the plant has been recorded in New Zealand and photographs and descriptions had been sent to a United States-based expert on Passiflora for a definitive identification.
At this stage it appears the plant is restricted to a roughly four hectare area, although how it came to be there is also a mystery.
Mr McKenzie says once a formal identification is made, Council staff will have a better idea of what they’re dealing with and will hopefully be able to eradicate the plant.
He says the plant is shade tolerant and grows high into the canopy of tall trees. It also has small fruit which appear to be attractive to birds, which in turn could spread it to other areas.
While the plant is unlikely to be poisonous, Regional Council staff say until it is identified they are urging people to err on the side of caution and stay away from it.
The Regional Council is planning a leaflet drop to homes in the area near where the plant was found and will be seeking local residents’ help to more accurately determine its spread.
Mr McKenzie says the Passiflora genus is known for its weed-like nature – which includes smothering other plant life - and the Regional Council is extremely keen to stop it spreading and threatening bush in other areas.