Forest plants come in all different shapes and sizes – ground covers, shrubs, climbers and trees over 50 metres high. All these different plants provide homes and food for all the birds, reptiles, insects and other animals which live in our forests.
These giants of the forests grow in the north of New Zealand. The biggest known kauri is Tane Mahuta, which means “God of the Forest”. Tane Mahuta is 51.2m tall and measures 13.7 m around its trunk – it would take around 10 kids holding hands to wrap around it! A lot of our kauri were cut down for their wood and its gum was used to make varnish. Kauri have cones full of seeds, a bit like a pine tree, which birds like the kakariki and kaka like to eat.
Tree Fuchsia – Kotukutuku
The tree fuchsia is different from a lot of our native forest trees because it is deciduous which means it loses its leaves in winter. The nectar is a favourite food of tui, bellbirds, hīhī and kereru and in spring these birds have bright blue heads because they pick up the strange blue pollen in the fuchsia flowers. People can also eat the fruit and even make the berries into jam.
Tree Nettle – Ongaonga
It might look harmless, but this shrub is one of the most dangerous plants in our forests. It has tiny, stinging hairs all over it. Even if you just lightly touch the hairs the tip breaks off, goes into your skin and injects you with a type of poison. It normally just causes a painful rash but it has been known to kill dogs and even a horse! It is an important plant for our native red admiral butterflies and some moths which lay their eggs on the leaves. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which happily eat the leaves of the ongaonga and aren’t bothered by its poisonous hairs.
The Northern rata is related to the pohutukawa and has the same bright red flowers at Christmas time. Most trees start as a seed in the ground but rata are a bit different. Their seeds are blown high into the branches of other trees where they germinate. The little plant grows on the dirt that collects in the angle of the branch. Slowly it begins to grow roots down towards the ground. Over hundreds of years the roots join together until they completely surround the trunk of its host tree. In time the host tree dies and rots away, leaving the rata tree growing with a hollow inside.
The black beech gets its name from the black mould that grows all over its trunk. The mould grows on sticky, sweet honeydew that is excreted by the sooty beech scale. This insect lives in the bark, sucking the sap of the tree. It sucks so much sap that some comes out its bottom! The honey dew is also food for butterflies, bees, tui, bellbirds, kaka, kea and pests like possums and wasps.