If you go into the bush this summer you might be lucky enough to see a Winika in flower. Native to New Zealand, it is an epiphytic orchid with the sole species Winika cunninghamii (syn Dendrobium cunninghamii). It is commonly found in rainforest in the North, South, Stewart and Chatham islands and usually flowers in summer and early autumn. Its common names are winika, pekapeka (confusingly, also the word for a bat in te reo), Christmas orchid and bamboo orchid (owing to the bamboo-like stems).
Winika cunninghamii was first catalogued by Daniel Solander (who voyaged with Cook and Banks) as Epidendrum pendulum.
Botanist Richard Cunningham (1793-1835) collected a specimen in the Whangaroa area in 1833-34, and it was subsequently named Dendrobium cunninghamii by botanist and orchidologist Professor John Lindley. Read more about Richard Cunningham and his botanist brother Alan here.
Australian scientists Mark Clements (M A Clements) and David Jones have more recently (about 2007) removed it to form Winika cunninghamii. Read more about the re-naming of NZ orchids here.
The orchid gave its name to a Waikato war canoe – legend has it that in 1838 once the totara for the hull was felled “masses” of the orchid was found on the tree.
Te Winika, which was buried during the Land Wars, was restored in the 1930s by a team including carving student – and later renowned opera singer – Inia Te Wiata. The waka, again refurbished in 1972, was used ceremonially from 1938 to 1973. Now on display in Waikato Museum, Te Winika was gifted to Hamilton city in 1973 by the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu.
New Zealand Post released a native orchid miniature sheet to mark the 1990 World Stamp Exhibition in Auckland. Winika was a 40c stamp, alongside the sun orchid (Thelymitra pulchella), spider orchid (Corybas macranthus), greenhood orchid (Pterostylis banksii) and odd leaved orchid (Aporostylis bifolia).
Te Papa Museum’s Herbarium has various specimens of Winika cunninghamii, several with images.