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No. 40 (September 1962)
– 59 –

Flower of the Taro

If there is any one thing that can link us with the far-off days when our Maori ancestors were moving south from their tropical home to this land hauled from the ocean by the mighty Maui, that thing is the food of olden times. And in particular, it is the cultivated plants native to warm climates that were brought here and tended with loving care for century after century.

Some of these plants are very rare today. They had to be carefully cultivated and when European varieties of vegetables were introduced which needed less care and which produced a greater crop, the old varieties languished. Perhaps it was sentiment alone, the care which is the right of an old friend now fallen on bad days, which enabled them to survive.

But in the old-time taro lies a link with those far-off days. It is a link that was brought to mind at Auckland recently when a taro in the garden of a Kohimarama resident flowered. This is a very rare event indeed and excited comment from people who make plants their special study.

The taro flowers and sets seed in some of the islands of the tropics, New Guinea for example. New varieties arise from cross-pollination of the flowers and the subsequent growth of the seeds, although something new will occasionally arise from what botanists call a ‘sport’. While the taro seldom flowers here, there are nevertheless a number of varieties which the Maori of old distinguished one from another and gave distinct names to.

Now if the Taro does flower and set seed in New Zealand, then the varieties can be explained. If it does not set seed we now know that it does flower—then the varieties must have been brought to New Zealand as varieties. It follows that a useful line of investigation leading to more evidence as to ancient Polynesian voyaging can be followed by tracing the types of taro through the Pacific.

The plant that flowered was in the garden of Mr A. T. Pycroft at 7 Edmund Street, Kohimarama. Mr Pycroft, whose knowledge of New Zealand's flora and wild life has been built up over a lifetime of study, realised the significance of the flowering. He and the botanist at the Auckland

We regret that in our last issue a mis-print occurred in Theo Schoon's article on growing gourds. The top line in the second column should refer to 15 feet–not to 15 inches.

War Memorial Museum, Dr R. Cooper, studied the rare flower and watched it carefully to see if it set any seed. Unfortunately it didn't. The apricot-coloured bloom, which was shaped like a candle 11 inches long, wilted and died before any seed matured.

Dr Cooper, who has made a special study of the taro—and the kumara too— thinks that the taro may flower in years like the present when there has been a particularly long, hot summer. He said that it seems to be the practice of highly cultivated root vegetables not to flower or to flower very rarely.

But the flowering, which was reported in local newspapers, did bring in reports from other people who had noticed the same occurrence in their gardens. There were four reports from Auckland itself and one from Hikurangi. These will be investigated, mainly to see if the plants are the old Maori taro or specimens of the kind more recently introduced. Mr Pycroft believes his to be one of the Maori variety for he procured it many years ago from a place inland of Opua.

Perhaps some who read this may have noted a flower on their taro this autumn. Dr Cooper would be interested to hear of it. It might help to add a little to the wonderful story of the voyages of our ancestors in the long ago.