Kākābeak making a comeback

Conservationists have boosted by a third the number of endangered käkäbeak plants known to exist in the wild.

Staff at the Forest Lifeforce Restoration (FLR) Trust have dug 35 of the plants with the spectacular curved, crimson flowers into bluffs in Te Urewera National Park, overlooking
the Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke’s Bay.

Until recently just 110 käkäbeak (Clianthis maximus or ngutukäkä) were known to exist in the wild. Five of those are on the Waiau Bluffs, where they have been joined by
the 35 transplants.

Wild-grown käkäbeak have been decimated by goats, deer and other exotic browsers to the extent that the species now holds New Zealand’s highest possible threatened plant ranking of nationally critical.

They are grown widely in gardens but these domestic plants are all derivatives of a few wild plants. They have been interbred and have little or no genetic value.

Hawke’s Bay-based FLR Trust runs the largest käkäbeak propagation and restoration programme in New Zealand and has five seed nurseries, four in Hawke’s Bay and one
in the Bay of Islands. These have produced hundreds of juvenile käkäbeak plants, which staff have started planting on conservation land.

Trust staff are perfecting a ground-breaking technique to propagate the plants by blasting seeds from a shotgun into likely nursery sites. These are frequently on bluffs or
cliff faces and are as inaccessible to humans as they are to browsers. Helicopters are often the only way to reach them.

Staffer Barry Crene developed the technique using reloaded shotgun shells packed with regular shotgun pellets, a pulp medium and käkäbeak seed. It creates the potential
for an aerial propagation effort on a scale that hasn’t yet been possible.

The käkäbeak once ranged widely across the North Island. Its distribution is believed to have been expanded by Mäori, who valued it for its decorative appeal