Questions? AskAuckland

NZ Plants

Maori uses of plants: Overview


Polynesian colonists, the ancestors of the Māori, were skilled sea people and fishermen who had learned how to domesticate plants and animals for their needs.
When they arrived in New Zealand about 800 years ago (see New Zealand Plants Time Line) they were faced with unfamiliar and diverse environments within which to settle.
With time, however, native plants were adapted for use as foods, medicines and fibre.
In the process, the Polynesian way of life was transformed into a distinctively Māori culture.

There are over 2000 species of vascular plants and a wide variety of coastal seaweeds and fungi in New Zealand.

Making generalisations on the use of these by the Māori is difficult because customs varied from one tribe to another.
Furthermore, early written records on this topic are based upon observations of European travelers and colonists and were susceptible to a certain degree of bias and misunderstanding.

These pages are a basic introduction to plants that were adapted by the Māori for use as fibre, food and medicines. Information was obtained from general and specialised books and journals all in the public domain.

If you follow up on the links and references we have provided you will have a good overview of Māori uses of plants.

We suggest that you also visit websites written from a Māori perspective.

Poor Knights Islands, coastal forest. (photo, Peter de Lange)
Kaimai Range, tawa forest. (photo, Rob Lucas)