Pukeiti part of global effort to save rhododendron

One of Taranaki’s premier gardens is playing a pivotal role in a global effort to save threatened rhododendron species from extinction.

Pukeiti is well known as an increasingly popular visitor attraction, and it is also a centre of research and propagation in a conservation project.

The project, called the Rhododendron Ex Situ Conservation Project, is led by Massey University and supported by the Taranaki Regional Council, as well as the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and the NZ Rhododendron Association.

Council’s regional gardens manager Greg Rine describes Pukeiti’s rhododendron collection as being of global significance.

“And when you also consider those at other gardens, New Zealand has about 500 species, sub-species and varieties of rhodo, out of the 1300 that exist in total. We’re an important player,” he said.

“Many of these face extinction in their native habitats, so there’s a coordinated international effort to conserve these at other locations… to ensure they’re not lost.”

TRC rhododendron collection and projects officer Andrew Bunn with Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust’s Graham Smith inspecting rhododendron cuttings.

The project is led by plant specialist Dr Marion MacKay of Massey University, with the key groundwork centred on Pukeiti.

An experienced panel of council staff and trust members is acting on her assessments of the conservation status of rhododendron at Pukeiti and elsewhere in New Zealand.

Those on the extinction “red list” are being propagated and distributed to botanic and public gardens across the country.

“If we want these plants to thrive and survive, it’s vital to avoid the eggs in one basket situation,” Rine says.

“The idea is to have these beautiful plants growing at a variety of locations, given how vulnerable they are in their natural habitats.”

Trust chairman Gordon Bailey says Pukeiti is ideally placed for this work.

This is not only because of it’s large collection of rhododendrons, but also because of “its unique rainforest setting, and the experience and expertise built up by council staff and trust members,” Bailey says.

It also reinforces Pukeiti’s status as an important garden globally, and complements the work taking place there to restore and protect indigenous biodiversity.

Rine says the main drawcard for visitors will always be the stunning rhododendron displays against a lush rainforest backdrop, along with all-weather and family-friendly facilities.

“But behind the scenes, important environmental work is taking place that has regional, national and global significance.”