This article was published in the Titirangi Tatler, April 2011
Have you noticed how well the koromiko is flowering this year?
Often overlooked or ignored as a scruffy, unthrifty shrub, the poor koromiko is only given the attention it deserves when you most need it. Whether as a fast-establishing nurse crop shrub in harsh environments, or as a curative for diarrhoea, it is a ‘must have' species that forgives the neglect it is usually given.
Koromiko is a coloniser, but none the worse for that, as it fills in the gaps amongst other trees, keeping out invasive weeds, particularly where there is plenty of light. For that reason, it is easily seen when driving or walking through the Waitakeres, and this year it seems to be flowering particularly attractively.
Grown on the edge of the bush it will happily thrive, flowering prolifically for several years, until it gets to its twiggy, unruly stage when it generally gets a ruthless cut-back. Left to recover unaided, it struggles for years and never again looks thrifty in West Auckland's clay soils. However, if koromiko is given a modicum of attention - pruning after flowering, an annual dose of nutrient-rich compost, and even an all-purpose spray - it will flourish and look a treat for many, many years. The big plus is that if your family gets an unfortunate bout of diarrhoea, the remedy awaits in the leaf tips of the koromiko. Chew on it directly or use it like a tea-bag and drink the infusion, it will settle upset stomachs as effectively nowadays as it did for the Maori Battalion in the Second World War and for centuries before that.
It is a 2-3 metre tall shrub with the classic arrangement of Hebe leaves in opposite pairs on alternate planes. The leaves are 5-10cm long x 2 cm wide, ending in a sharp point and normally without serrations along the edge. They are a yellow-green, dull not glossy. The myriad tiny mauve/white flowers are arranged in a spike rather longer than the leaves and produced near the growing tip to display clearly above the foliage. Some find them strongly scented and certainly butterflies love them as well as bees.
Hebe stricta var. stricta is a very common and widespread plant and also quite variable in its foliage and shape. Local variations and hybrids occur elsewhere but in the Waitakere Ranges there are many variants with the local Waitakere endemic Hebe bishopiana.
The South Island has a rather similar plant called Hebe salicifolia and there are 4 other varieties of Hebe stricta in the southern half of the North Island. Mostly more compact and useful as ornamentals, they are varieties egmontiana, atkinsonii, macroura and lata.
Wherever you live, the local version of Hebe stricta is well worth growing.