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Dunedin Botanic Garden harakeke and wharariki project

The Dunedin Botanic Garden (DBG) has a large and valuable collection of harakeke and wharariki (New Zealand flax) cultivars. Little is known about the different cultivars in the collection and their origins. It is possible that some of the cultivars are unique to Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand).

The aim of this project is to discover more of the distinctiveness of the DBG collection. We are investigating this in four inter-related ways:

  1. Researching the origins of the collection through historical records and oral history.
  2. Documenting the characteristics of the individual harakeke and wharariki.
  3. Measuring strength and other properties of whītau/muka/fibre.
  4. Working in conjunction with Ngāi Tahu and where appropriate, developing a whakapapa for the cultivars.

A consultation hui was held in June 2007 to discuss the research with the community. The minutes are available here. A focus group was elected to provide advice and participate in selected aspects of the research. The group, known as the Kaimahi Harakeke has eight members made up of weavers, horticulturalists, Ngāi Tahu and mataawaka.

A dissemination hui was held in July 2008.

Research work to date includes:

  • Development of documentation with the Kaimahi Harakeke outlining protocols for certain aspects of the project.
  • Preparation of a preliminary report examining Pākehā connections to the collection from approximately 1850 to 1930.
  • Preparation of detailed maps of the cultivars for two of the four collection areas (Borders) in the DBG. Investigation of DBG documentation of the collection.
  • Selection and assessment of weaving properties of twenty-four cultivars by the Kaimahi Harakeke. Assessment of leaf microstructure and whītau strength in the laboratory.
  • Establishment of an herbarium, including both physical and photographic samples.
  • Assessment of weaving properties of the cultivars in the Cemetery Border.

The project began in April 2007 and is due to conclude by April 2010. The research is funded by a Foundation for Research, Science and Technology Te Tipu Pūtaiao post-doctoral fellowship. The research team for the project are Dr Bronwyn Lowe (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Otago) Rua McCallum (Ngāi Tahu Whānui and Mātauranga Māori consultant to the project), Tom Myers (Dunedin Botanic Garden) and Dr Debra Carr (Department of Clothing and Textile Sciences, University of Otago).


Journal - Research Article (Refereed)

Lowe, B.J., Carr, D. J., McCallum, R. E., Myers, T., Ngarimu-Cameron, R., and Niven, B. E. Understanding the variability of vegetable fibres: a case study from New Zealand. Textile Research Journal. Accepted for publication 29 Nov 2009, pending revision.

Lowe B.J., Carr D.J., McCallum R.E., Myers T., Gorham A., Holmes H., Holtham C., Matenga L., Miller L., Ngarimu-Cameron R., Raumati W., Te Kanawa K. (2009). Consultation, collaboration and dissemination. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 39 (4): 225-228.

Conference Contributions

Lowe, B., Carr, D.J., McCallum, R.E., Myers, T., and Kaimahi Harakeke (2009). Researching harakeke (Phormium tenax) using mātauranga Māori and western science methods. Poster presentation at Ecology in a Changing Climate. Two Hemispheres- One Globe. 10th International Congress of Ecology (INTECOL). 16-21 August 2009, Brisbane, Australia. Poster available for download as PDF (444kb) here.

Lowe, B., Carr, D. J., McCallum, R. E., Myers, T., Niven, B. E., Cameron, R., Gorham, A., Holtham, C. & Te Kanawa, K. (2009). Identifying harakeke (Phormium tenax) cultivars using whītau and fibre aggregate properties. Oral presentation at Natural Fibres in Australasia. In Proceedings of the Combined (NZ and AUS) Conference of The Textile Institute. 15-17 April 2009, Dunedin, New Zealand: The Textile Institute. ISBN: 978-0-9598019-3-4. Paper available for download as PDF (255kb) here.

Full proceedings available via conference website: Combined (NZ and Aus) conference of The Textile Institute.

For further information contact Bronwyn Lowe: