Looking for a striking foliage plant for a wet, shady area? You may need to go no further than our own native parataniwha (Elatostema rugosum).
Given the space this perennial groundcover forms beautiful mounds of toothed leaves that range from green through bronze to purple in colour and can take really wet feet – in lighter shade the leaves are smaller, in deeper shade larger. The leaves are rough to the touch on the surface and have serrated edges. It has insignificant flowers which are followed by a small, one-seeded fruit.
This handsome plant also has the common name, New Zealand begonia, due to its dark stems. Parataniwha will grow to about 1m tall, but can be as high as 2m in sheltered gullies. It will take only light frost and was originally found only as far south as the Tararua Range.
Its botanical name puts it in with the nettle family, elatostoma roughly meaning “to burn”. The Maori name means home of the taniwha, or water spirit (something like a dragon) … or it refers to the leaves feeling like sharkskin, the shark being a taniwha. Either way, it’s a good story.
Read more about parataniwha here and how an innocent question about the colour of parataniwha leaves sparked scientific research that has led to discoveries about the importance of purple-fleshed food.