Our native plants: Kamahi Harlequin

Our most common forest tree kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) has given rise to Weinmannia Harlequin, a sport of W. racemosa. It’s a bushy plant that features long stems with some leaves that are lime green edged with cream and some that are darker green edged with pink.

Weinmannia Harlequin pictured in Pukekura Park’s magnificent display house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The PVR (plant variety right) for Harlequin is held by David and Noeline Sampson who in 1974 founded Cedar Lodge nursery on the outskirts of New Plymouth, the country’s only specialist conifer nursery. Read more about Cedar Lodge in an earlier post.

I gave David a call hoping to find out a bit more and he was kind enough to share the story. The plant was discovered about 25 years ago by Noeline on a property, which is still in family ownership, close to the famous Pukeiti Rhododendron Gardens in the foothills of Mt Taranaki. The couple was establishing a pinetum on the land and Noeline spotted the bright foliage on the edge of some native bush (forest) while clearing grass from around young fir trees.

“I was there that day but she never said anything to me,” David says. “She took some cuttings and gave them to staff at Cedar Lodge to see if they could propagate them. The plant was in the nursery for 3 years and I never knew anything about it until Noeline said, ‘what do you think of this?’. My eyes nearly popped out of my head.”

The next step was to discover if there was anything else similar on the market. “I thought we would find that there’d be quite a lot of it about [commercially],” David says, “but when I made some inquiries I found it wasn’t the case.”

Naturally Native, near Tauranga, has the license to propagate Harlequin but David admits it’s no easy task, cuttings taking many months to root. The plant is also quite slow growing. He believes it may be selling “in small numbers”. Harlequin should be trimmed to promote growth of the brightly coloured fresh foliage.

The genus is named for Johann Wilhelm Weinmann (1683-1741) who was a German apothecary and botanist. Weinmann’s major work was Phytanthoza iconographia (1737-1745), which comprised eight folio volumes with more than 1000 hand-coloured engravings of several thousand plants. The first artist employed by Weinmann was Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) who would become one of the foremost floral illustrators of the 18th century. Read more here.

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4 thoughts on “Our native plants: Kamahi Harlequin

  1. I love hearing the stories of how these interesting plants came to be. It makes you wonder how many other gems are out there but not yet seen by someone as sharp-eyed and knowledgeable as Noeline.

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