Science could help protect milk tree

Publish Date : 15 Nov 2022

Scientists are getting picky across Auckland, including in the Clevedon Scenic Reserve.

Franklin Local Board has granted landowner approval for an Auckland University researcher to pick leaves and take samples from rare streblus banksii trees.

The project is part of a thesis looking into the genetic and morphological diversity of the species in the Auckland region to better conserve it.

Morphology is a branch of biology dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms, including aspects of their outward appearance as well as the form and structure of their internal parts. 

Board Chair Angela Fulljames says the work could prove valuable in protecting a rare species. “We are happy to give approval so samples can be taken, and we’ve asked that the results of the research, and any recommendations, be made available to the council to assist with our conservation efforts.”

Only a tiny sample of leaves will be taken from the Thorps Road reserve site.

Researchers will access the reserve using walking tracks to sample small quantities of leaves from any sighted specimens and measure the trees.

They will also cut samples off present streblus trees, as a one-off, but juvenile trees under a metre will only have one leaf removed.

Fulljames says the project is expected to take about four months to complete, and because the trees are rare, all footwear, equipment and cutting tools would be fully sanitised, and steps would be taken to minimise any disturbance to any other flora or fauna.

Iwi had been consulted and the council specialist raised no concerns.

Named for the milky sap that exudes when stems are cut, the milk tree, ewekuri or tūrepo, can grow to 12 metres. It has yellow flowers between September and November followed by bright red-orange oval fruits.

Endemic to New Zealand and once widespread, its current distribution is typically sparse, mostly easterly in the North Island from Kaitaia to East Cape, the Hauraki Gulf islands, Waikato and northern Hawke’s Bay.

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