Our plants: Parataniwha

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.

Parataniwha growing down a cliff in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

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.

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One thought on “Our plants: Parataniwha

  1. Sandra, we too have Parataniwha planted in our garden. We have found that they take an age to establish themselves but once they are happy, grow quite quickly. As we are reclaiming our garden from 20 years of neglect, we are not sure yet whether it is the location (light), the soil condition or water that is the key factor in their happiness! The specimens Auckland domain native garden are impressive and we aspire to those! We are aiming to remove the exotics from our garden and replace them with natives to create a little slice of NZ bush in central Auckland. At the moment it is all about structure, but we are about to embark on the second phase of planting. You can check out our reclaiming efforts on our blog at http://thecorinthcanal.blogspot.com

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