While we don’t have the global monopoly on all astelia species, most New Zealand gardeners don’t think beyond Astelia chathamica (with its big silver leaves) and bronze ‘Astelia Westland’. A. solandri is not usually available commercially, although I see Oratia Native Plants sell it if you want to have it. Ours are all seedlings, dispersed by birds and most grow as epiphytes perched on the big old trees in our woodland areas. Its common name is the perching lily, no doubt because of this ephiphytic inclination, and its Maori name is kowharawhara.
When it is not in flower, it is just a green leafy plant, akin to a softer, narrow leafed flax in appearance, with leaves over a metre long arching outwards, somewhat silvery beneath. Essentially it acts as green furnishing detail in the garden. But when the flowers come, there is a delightful twisted tangle of stems and foliage. The flowers come out creamy yellow and age to this soft pinky colour.
I hope the ignorant claim that our native plants are all boring is dying out. A. solandri may not be spectacular and showy, but it brings a quiet charm to the autumn woodland.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.