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The Manuka Tree and New Zealand’s botanical history

New Zealand’s botanical history is as unique and varied as the flora that has made these islands home.

Manuka Tree

New Zealand owes a lot to isolation. Aotearoa is home to a unique variety of flora and fauna which have adapted and evolved over millions of years thanks to our down-under location and being surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of open water. With few neighbours to share species with, over 80% of our flora classed as ‘endemic’ or native.

For many years it was believed that many species had evolved from plants found on the supercontinent Gondwana 85 million years ago; however, modern thinking is that seeds and spores travelled via ocean and air more recently - a mere 10 million years ago. These hardy ancestors drifted on ocean currents and waves, danced on winds and sat snug in the belly of far-travelled wildlife before finding roots in the fertile soil of the land that would become New Zealand.

New Zealand’s plants have adapted to fit our unique climate, landscape and wildlife; therefore there are a few key differences which set our flora apart from the rest of the world.

  • New Zealand’s unique array of animals have had an effect on plant life. Unlike those from other countries, some of New Zealand’s plants rely on small, short-tongued pollinators such as bees, beetles and flies, rather than the birds, butterflies and long-tongued bees found elsewhere, and the flowers have adapted as required. The Manuka tree is a perfect example of this adaptation - the Manuka flowers are small, white, scented and of a simple structure to allow for easy pollination.
  • Native plants are generally ill-equipped to deal with the cold - frosts and snowfall are uncommon in many parts of Aotearoa, and even some alpine plants are ill-suited to freezing temperatures. Due in part to the lack of cold-adaption, the majority of plants are evergreen, and there are few annual herbs. New Zealand also boasts more than its fair share of ferns, often found in more tropical climates.
  • Thanks to our lack of wildfires, most native trees have evolved without the thick bark and large roots needed for protection from fire. Manuka is one of the only plants prepared, with hardy bark and wood and a knack for regeneration.
  • New Zealand has a large number of dioecious trees, which have male and female flowers on separate plants, rather than on the same plant (or monoecious plant). It is thought that our flora is made up of approximately 13% of dioecious trees, compared to an average of less than 5% worldwide. A dioecious tree has more chance of genetic variation and is, therefore, better suited to survive in a changing environment.
  • High levels of UV-B light thanks to our proximity to the hole in the ozone layer has seen many New Zealand plants adapt to defend themselves against the harsh rays. Plants such as Manuka produce more polyphenols, which in turn have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. When comparing Manuka oil with Australian tea tree oil, Manuka was 20-30 times more active against gram-positive bacteria, in part thanks to the trees adaptation to combat UV-B.

The Manuka tree is just one of New Zealand’s unique and unusual plants, but it is one with a secret. Manuka oil, as found in ManukaRx, is one of nature’s great healers and protectors; oil sourced from the East Cape of New Zealand is famed for its exceptionally high levels of triketones, which boosts the oils anti-microbial properties making it more effective against bacteria and micro-organisms. Available here in a pocket-friendly 25g, ManukaRx ointment makes the healing essence of New Zealand’s rich botanical history easily accessible where you need it, when you need it.

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