Scientific name: Kunzea ericoides
Plant type: Large shrub or small tree
Environment: Full sun with well-drained soil
Bloom: Solitary white flowers, lightly scented
Uses: Screening plant
Australia – 59A, 59C, 60A, 64B
White tea tree (Kunzea ericoides) is a large shrub or small tree from the South Island of New Zealand. Throughout the species’ range there is a high amount of morphological variability between various populations. The species grows in a wide range of habitats and there is even a variety that grows in a geothermally active area, which is a particularly difficult environment for plants to thrive in given the extreme high temperatures.
When in flower, areas with large numbers of white tea trees often look as though they are covered in snow due to the density of the plants and their small white flowers. These white flowers are lightly scented and are typically pollinated by insects.
The Māori people of New Zealand have many uses for Kunzea ericoides, also commonly known as kānuka in the Māori language. The wood from the trees was used to make tools, particularly for agriculture, and weapons. The shaggy strips of bark were used as insulation in whares, Māori homes. The leaves of the tree are also used to brew a medicinal tea, giving the species its English common name. Kānuka is also a popular source of firewood as it is known to burn with high heat.
Kānuka is ecologically important, as well, as it will establish itself in dense stands in areas that have recently experienced fire or in open pastures. The aromatic leaves of Kunzea ericoides are used by kākāriki parakeets (Cyanoramphus) to rid themselves of parasites. The plants also act as important habitat for a range of life such as geckos, fungi, and orchid species.
The native population of the white tea tree is considered threatened, though research into the species’ conservation status is limited. This threat is primarily due to land conversion and felling for firewood.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text, profile, and photos by Victoria Stewart.