Aug 5, 2013

pikao-flowerPīngao (Desmoschoenus spiralis), or golden sand sedge is found only in New Zealand and is one of the best sand dune stabilizing plants in coastal areas. It is also a plant of considerable cultural and spiritual significance to Māori. There are legends associated with it and it is highly prized as a durable weaving material.

As a stabilizing plant, it works by trapping wind-blown sand between its leaves and around the base of the plant and the long rope-like rhizomes it sends out. This helps create low, undulating sand dunes. Once found throughout the country, pīngao is now only found in a few locations, where active replanting programmes have been established.

Pīngao is regarded as a taonga (treasure) by tangata whenua, as it is one of four key native species used by iwi for weaving – and it is the only fibre that doesn’t require colour enhancement; it dries to a brilliant yellow gold. This lends pingao to the weaving of tukutuku panels.

Traditionally, pīngao was harvested in autumn. The head of the plant was removed for its leaves and a side shoot was cut off and transplanted next to the parent plant to ensure an ongoing source of weaving material. From the 1980s, there was a noted decline in the abundance of pīngao, which prompted the Forest Research Institute to investigate sustainable harvesting methods. It was found that clipping the most desirable leaves – as opposed to cutting or wrenching – not only produced a better harvest, it also caused the least damage to the plant.