Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Astelia banksii. Wharawhara. Coastal astelia.
FAMILY: Asteliaceae
BOTANICAL NAME: Astelia banksii
MĀORI NAME: WHARAWHARA, horahora (Williams 1971= wharawhara), kōwharawhara ('a sweet smelling leafed tree (Astelia Banksii)' Taylor 1870), kōwarawara (Taylor 1847), pūwhara, pūwharawhara, kahakaha (Colenso 1892b).
COMMON NAME: coastal astelia
MEDICINAL: Seeds good source of essential fatty acids, generally regarded as protective against cardiovascular disease. (Cambie, Ferguson 2003)

FOOD: 'this plant is an epiphyte and produces its fruit in bunches, which is like a small red currant, with a small black seed in it; it is sweet and viscid.' (Taylor 1847) [BUT although Taylor says A. banksii, this description would better suit A. solandri (epiphyte, red berries).Ed. ]
Grows on sea cliffs. 'Fruit deep purple, handsome, much eaten by the natives' (Kirk, in Taylor 1870). [Kirk is a more reliable botanist than Taylor. Ed]
'The fruit of A. Banksii is eaten apparently by birds, but by what kinds is unknown. I have seen hundreds of plants stripped of their fruit within a day or two of its becoming ripe, without a trace being left on the ground; possibly rats may be concerned in the theft.' (Kirk 1871)
FIBRE: Astelia species used with harakeke, kiekie, pīngao in plaiting baskets to give different hues (Colenso 1882b). Long, slender leaves used (of kahakaha) but not frequently (Colenso 1892b).
N.B. Beever 1991 gives name kahakaha to Collospermum hastatum, a very similar looking plant.
'The shaggy leaf-bases of A. banksii, and other species, are said to have been made into mantles by the Māoris, but I have not had the good fortune to see one; in softness their silky covering rivals the finest swan down'. With A. trinervia and A. solandri affords ...' a material superior to Phormium for the manufacture of paper' (Kirk 1871).
DOMESTIC: Used by forest travellers as temporary baskets for food, or as mats to cover the food in a hangi (Te Rangi Hiroa 1923)
'That the women should see thee, They are getting the young leaf from the Wharawhara....' The silken part used by Maori females to decorate their faces. (White 1856)
LINK WORDS: raranga, plaiting, weaving, mats