Native Plant of the Month - March - Tānekaha


Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Tānekaha, or celery pine, as they are sometimes known, are endemic trees that naturally grow from Cape Reinga down to the top of the South Island. They have a graceful form with branches usually growing in evenly spaced whorls of five, which creates a pleasing geometry to many trees. Young tānekaha saplings often look a little like delicate christmas trees with a symmetrical triangular shape.

Tanekaha tree in regenerating bush

While tānekaha might seem common when you walk through the bush around Kaipātiki, they are not found throughout the whole of the country (and are found nowhere else in the world). Tānekaha are uncommon south of the Central Plateau and are most common in the Northland and Auckland regions, so they are a species that makes our local bush unique. Tānekaha are members of an ancient plant family called the podocarps. This family includes well-known forest giants such as kahikatea, tōtara and rimu. These trees can be thought of as the Southern Hemisphere equivalents of pines, which they are broadly related to. Podocarps mostly have leathery leaves that have a needle-like shape, have wood with resin, do not have flowers and reproduce using modified cones. These qualities don’t sound like they fit our tānekaha very well at face value, but it just goes to show how good plants are at pushing boundaries sometimes.

Tānekaha phylloclades are deceptively similar to leaves!

The common name celery pine is a description of the celery-leaf-like foliage that these trees have. However, these are not actually leaves at all! Tānekaha have phylloclades; flattened green branch stems that are adapted to act like leaves and photosynthesise. If you look carefully at a tānekaha ‘leaf’ you will see that it has clear veins and edges that step up in tiny merged fans towards the tip, forming a rough diamond shape. Each of these fanned steps or lobes that you can see is one flattened branchlet, which then merges seamlessly into the next. The scientific name for Tānekaha is Phyllocladus trichomanoides which means fern-like leaf-branch in reference to the ferny appearance of the phylloclades. Tānekaha do actually have some real leaves as well as their deceptive phylloclades, but these have been reduced over aeons to minute leaf scales that are not much bigger than eyelashes and drop off the tree very quickly.