Many flowering native shrub or tree species belong to the daisy family. Of the approximately 20 tree-forming olearia species, some are widespread in forests. These have typical daisy flowers with white to cream ray florets and flaky furrowed bark, but can be recognised by their leaves. Although many yellow-flowered shrubby brachyglottis species (until recently mostly classed as Senecio) are grown widely in gardens, only two are common in forests. Most brachyglottis are shrubland or forest margin species and are restricted in their distribution.
Toothed, narrow-leaved tree daisies
Two olearia species, with tough leathery leaves, are mostly found in montane to subalpine forests.
Olearia lacunosa’s narrow dark leaves have edges that curve under and sunken hollows between the veins on the underside. Its rough grey bark hangs in strips, rather like that of tōtara. This species is found from the Tararua Range in the north to Westland in the south.
Hakeke – holly-leaved O. ilicifolia – is more common, being found from East Cape to Stewart Island. Its spiny-toothed leaves are linear to oblong, and easily recognised by their musky scent.
Broad-leaved tree daisies
Three of the more common olearias have rounded or egg-shaped, wavy-edged leaves.
Heketara (Olearia rani) grows from sea level to 800 metres in forest, scrub, and on lake and river margins throughout the North Island and in Nelson and Marlborough. This species forms a shrub in the forest interior, but in the open can grow into a small tree up to eight metres high. Its pale green leathery leaves are toothed and woolly underneath, and its yellow-centred flowers grow in creamy masses in spring.
Lookalike O. arborescens has darker, glossier leaves and smaller flower clusters. It grows in forests and scrub from sea level up to 1,200 metres, from the Bay of Plenty southwards.
Akiraho or golden akeake (O. paniculata) has smaller pale leaves, distinctly buff-golden wool on its branchlets and leaf undersides, and sweet-smelling small flowers. Mainly growing in coastal forests from East Cape and Raglan Harbour southwards to Ōamaru and Greymouth, it is widely grown as a hedge plant. Unlike most other tree daisies, it flowers in autumn.
Māori used the big, soft leaves of rangiora as poultices for wounds and sores, and called paper ‘pukapuka’, which is one of their names for this plant. Early European settlers living in the bush used the leaves as toilet paper, and trampers still do today.
Large, soft, matt-green leaves with glistening white woolly undersurfaces make rangiora (Brachyglottis repanda) easy to recognise. It grows as a shrub or tree up to seven metres high. It is found in open forest and shrubland throughout the North Island and from north-west Nelson to just south of Greymouth in the west, and near Kēkerengū in the east. This plant has naturalised on Banks Peninsula, Otago Peninsula and around Oban on Stewart Island. Its masses of tiny, creamy yellow flowers appear in late winter and early spring.