The Rhododendron Conservation Project

Taranaki Regional Council is collaborating with the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, Massey University and the New Zealand Rhododendron Association on an ex-situ conservation strategy for the genus Rhododendron.

But what does this actually mean?

An ex-situ strategy means we are physically conserving something outside of its natural habitat range to ensure its survival – similar to the way zoos work with native and exotic animals.

Rhododendrons are our focus because as a group of plants they are one of the most endangered in the world, 25% of the known species (325 of 1232) are either extinct in the wild or on the brink of extinction. The Pukeiti collection holds examples of three species of rhododendron that are extinct in the wild alongside nine that are critically endangered.

As most people will know, Pukeiti sits on the edge of an active volcano therefore may not be the best place to grow the full range of rhododendron species we would like. So we are looking at other areas in New Zealand that will be an ideal home for these endangered species. One option is Gore in the South Island as it offers a range of climatic zones that have less humidity. This is preferred by the plants that have heavy indumentum, or furry leaves, and have evolved to deal with the cold.

This collaboration has made steady progress over the last four years and will continue to do so as we look to the future. We hope one day to successfully return some of our plants to their countries of origin.