My garden is buzzing with bees and bumble bees. They are all over the white rāta vines that climb up the whekī trunks at the edge of my garden. Metrosideros perforata, to give it its latin name, is part of the pohutukawa / rata family and is one of 12 species native to Aotearoa /New Zealand. Its leaves are small, typical of many plants native to the under-storey of the New Zealand bush. It germinates on the ground before climbing trees with its distinctive ‘mosaic’ pattern, the clasping roots cling to trees as it climbs to reach the forest canopy. Once reaching the canopy it branches out and becomes bushy.The white fluffy flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, birds, geckos and at night time the white flowers attract many moth species.
According to Gardening with New Zealand Plants, Shrubs & Trees (Fisher et al, 1988) it can apparently form a small shrub if it’s not allowed to climb and could even be possibly used as an alternative to box hedging!
It is, unfortunately, susceptible the Australian fungal disease, myrtle rust, which can be treated with a fungicide in the domestic environment but it is impossible to eradicate in the wild.
White Rata has uses historically and in the present. Maori use the young vines for lashing weapons and palisades. The thin young stems were tied while green and pliable, they then dried and become very hard and rigid. It was known to be an antiseptic, to stop bleeding and recently it has been discovered that leaves and bark have anti bacterial properties effective against super bugs.
White rata (akatea) is found throughout the North Island in the west of the South Island and as far south as Banks Peninsula in the east.