Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is New Zealand’s main pioneer shrub, and thrives after fire. Like bracken, it grows throughout the country, from the coast to the mountains, and tolerates wet or dry soils. It is extremely adaptable and hardy, and can flower and seed when just a few centimetres tall. Its woody capsules split open when dry or burnt, releasing thousands of fine light seeds that are spread by wind.
Germinating mānuka seedlings need full sunlight to grow, as they have few food reserves in their tiny seed. They germinate prolifically – thousands to a square metre. These compete intensely for nutrients, water and light. Over time most mānuka seedlings and saplings die, until just one tree dominates every few square metres.
Mānuka is senile at 30–50 years, when it dies from insect and wind damage. As its canopy opens, other species germinate and grow, as it is too shady under the canopy for a second crop of mānuka.
Mānuka infusions have been used by the Māori to deal with stomach complaints and research in the 1990s has shown that the extracts of the leaves have an antibiotic effect. Its active chemical ingredient leptospermone acts against the methicillin-resistant bacterium Staphylococcis aureus, which has caused serious problems in hospitals.
Maggy Wassilieff. 'Forest succession and regeneration - Mānuka, kānuka and gorse', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/forest-succession-and-regeneration/page-4
Nigel Perry. 'Plant extracts - Medicines', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/plant-extracts/page-3
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