Scientific name: Clianthus puniceus
Plant type: Evergreen shrub
Environment: Full sun to part shade, in well-drained soil
Bloom: Clusters of bright red to pink beak shaped flowers
Uses: Specimen plant
McBean Wildfowl Pond – 67E
Glory pea (Clianthus puniceus) is a small, evergreen shrub endemic to New Zealand. There is only one other species of Clianthus, Clianthus magnificus, also native to New Zealand. Both species are found only on the North Island.
The range and habitat of Clianthus puniceus before human intervention is not entirely clear as it was widely cultivated by the Māori and even exchanged as gifts. The populations known today may well have been originally established by humans, but their exact origins are unknown. These questions aside, today, Clianthus puniceus is found growing in coastal scrub on cliffsides. It can also grow in poor soils, as it is a member of the Fabaceae, or pea, family and has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil.
The glory pea is rare in the wild and there are few wild populations in existence. These individuals are threatened by a number of factors such as drought, animal browsing, and competition from weeds. Despite its endangered status, glory pea has been widely cultivated both in New Zealand and abroad. Individuals from wild populations have also been propagated and cultivated in gardens to protect the wild genetics. Multiple reestablishment efforts are also currently underway in New Zealand in an attempt to protect the species.
Other common names for Clianthus puniceus include parrot’s bill, kākā’s bill, and the Maori name is Ngutukākā. These are in reference to the flower shape which resembles the beak of the kākā bird (Nestor meridionalis), a parrot native to New Zealand. The flowers are bright red and produce large quantities of nectar. Here in San Francisco this makes them popular with pollinators like hummingbirds. In its native New Zealand, it is popular with tūī birds (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) and the Māori would feed caged tūī with the plant. The seed pods, which resemble pea pods, were also used by early Māori as a food source.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Photos by Victoria Stewart