Ramarama: gleaming leaves & tasty for the birds
Alfie here, and this week, I’m interviewing Matu Booth, Conservation Officer in the valley, and a recently elected member of the Karori Sanctuary Guardians. I want to find out which plant he recommends for attracting birds in to Wellington gardens.
Alfie: Hi Matu, I feel like I’ve known you forever, how long have you been here?
Matu: You and I go way back my friend. I started working in the valley in late 2000 and you arrived in 2002. When you first arrived and were chilling at your aviary pad I remember it was my great pleasure to gather and deliver your request for daily huhu grubs in rotten logs. And then when you were free to claim the valley as your own I recall the honour I felt when you flew down and landed on my head for the first time.
Alfie: I loved exploring the valley for the first time – I still love it here. Tell me Matu, you must have seen lots of birds, and introduced a few to the valley?
Matu: In the early years we travelled many times to Kapiti and Tiritiri Matangi where the founders of most of our re-introduced species came from. After the release of each species I’ve roamed and combed the slopes for signs that individuals have adopted the valley as home – searching for the precious nests of kiwi, tīeke, pōpokotea, toutouwai, korimako, pāteke, hihi, kākāriki, tomtit, weka, and your own Nestorian tribe. I’ve listened to songs evolve and watched for which foods have been favoured.
Alfie: So you know the sort of plants we like to feed on – and what grows well in Wellington. What’s your favourite?
Matu: I’m going with ramarama, Alfie. Scientifically known as Lophomyrtus bullata.
Alfie: Whew – does it have a Nestorian name? I mean…how would I recognize it?
Matu: Well the shorthand way to recognise the tree is from its leaves which are bubbled and shiny and oval. The tree is medium sized– several could be grown closely and trimmed to form a tight hedge. Its branches are tightly packed together, which provides a safe haven for small birds to nest in. It flowers between November and March, and the fruits ripen from January through to June.
Alfie: So what’s special about it for you Matu?
Matu: Well I think it’s one of the species that is so easily overlooked when we think of food trees for birds. Over the years we’ve planted many through the sanctuary – I love its beautiful leaves. I’ve watched some of your mates climbing carefully all over a ramarama delicately plucking the fruit off one by one. The ripe fruit taste a little like guava.
Alfie: And will the peeps be able to grow it in their own gardens so we can have a snack when we visit? What sort of conditions does it like – sun, shade, in-between?
Matu: Because it’s always grown in the Wellington area, it will do well in a wide variety of conditions in people’s gardens – and grows particularly well in semi-shaded areas too.
Alfie: Sounds great Matu. I know exactly what it is now – a great choice, and thanks for sharing your observations and knowledge. And I’ve remembered the Nestorian name. It’s….
And with that I gave a loud skrraaaark whibble skraark, and flew off, leaving a slightly puzzled Matu looking up at me as I gathered pace just over the heads of visitors walking along down Lake Road. I thought – how lucky we are to have this sanctuary.
Matu Booth with a young ramarama tree on Lake Road. Photo by Alfred Kaka.
Ramarama’s unusual bubble leaves. Photo by Alison Buchan
Ramarama flowers. Photo by Alison Buchan.
KEY RAMARAMA FACTS
- Small shrub or tree – up to around 6 m.
- White flowers in summer – then dark red berries attractive to birds January through June.
- Can be trimmed and maintained as a shrub or hedge.
- Hardy – thrives in Wellington conditions, including coastal areas.
- Happy in semi-shade.
- Ramarama in Māori means gleam (the leaves appear lacquered).