First Encounters with Aotearoa New Zealand’s Native Plants

Friday 25 October 2019

Plant samples gathered 250 years ago by the botanists on James Cook’s Endeavour expedition will be displayed in a new exhibition that opens Wednesday 30 October.

Exhibition Curators Emma Brooks and Cor Vink

Exhibition curators, Emma Brooks, Curator Human History and Cor Vink, Curator Natural History with some of the 250-year-old plant specimens.

He Uru Hou: Our Native Plants brings together Māori and European ways of understanding Aotearoa New Zealand’s flora.

The plant specimens, on loan from the Allan Herbarium at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, were gathered in 1769 by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. They are the oldest of the herbarium’s 620,000 specimens.

Banks and Solander pressed the samples to preserve them. After the expedition returned to England, the plants formed the basis of Banks’ Primitiae Florae Novae Zelandiae (beginnings of a New Zealand flora).

He Uru Hou displays the plant samples alongside tools, clothing, musical instruments and other objects made by Māori from native plants. These taonga illustrate the wide extent of Māori plant knowledge when the Endeavour arrived in 1769.

Exhibition Curator Cor Vink says that it is great that the 250-year-old plant samples were returned to New Zealand and that they still exist.

Banks and Solander were the first to analyse New Zealand plants using European scientific methods.

“Their samples are a reminder of a significant event in our history. We’re really grateful to Landcare Research for lending them to us,” he says.

Exhibition Curator Emma Brooks says He Uru Hou commemorates two cultures’ first encounters with the flora of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The East Polynesian ancestors of Māori had faced similar challenges to Banks and Solander when they arrived here 500 years earlier and encountered many new plant species.

“By the time the Endeavour arrived, Māori had extensive knowledge of and a wide range of uses, many of them quite ingenious, for our native plants,” she says.

The coming together of Māori and European ways of interpreting our native plants is symbolised in the exhibition by Jo Torr’s 2006 artwork Pacific Crossings, an eighteenth-century European style coat and waistcoat made from tapa cloth and embroidered with native plant designs.

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