This article was published in The Fringe, September 2014
Kanono, manono, papauma, raurekau or large-leaved coprosma.
Within the shade of the forest, the shrub layer up to about 4m generally consists of either those twiggy, divaricating shrubs with leaves not much more than 1cm long or the larger-leafed plants with leaves from 10cm to 20 cm. The forest shrub with the largest leaves is kanono or Coprosma grandifolia.
Kanono displays all the characteristics of Coprosmas generally. The simple flowers lack the attractive floral parts of most flowers, i.e. petals. The fruit are juicy drupes consisting of two hemispherical seeds and the flesh is a bright translucent red or orange. The leaves are in pairs opposite each other on the stem with a prominent stipule joining the bases of the leaf stalks, and in the junction where the leaf veins branch off the mid-rib there are distinctive indentations called domatia. Their function has been a mystery, and it was thought they might regulate leaf temperature or moisture levels.
More recent research shows the domatia provide a safe refuge for predatory bugs that will then wage war on herbivorous bugs. The research suggests that the herbivorous bugs that would eat the plant do not occupy the domatia and occur in fewer numbers than on plants without domatia. So it seems it is a case of mutualism where the plant benefits by providing a home for the carnivorous bug.
Frequently, several common names for a native plant indicate different tribal pronunciations or uses, and that may also be the case for kanono. But it has the distinction of having two Maori names depending on its age and stage of growth. When it is a young plant some tribes refer to it as kanono, but once it has reached a certain maturity they then call it manono and that indicates it is ready for the extraction of the yellow dye used by Maori. With suitable mordants it can make purple, red, brown and pink dyes, which are washable and do not fade in sun or rain. Scratch the surface bark of a kanono and you will see the strong orange colouring on the inner bark which provides the dye.
Kanono leaves are also used for healing wounds and acting as a disinfectant.
Coprosma grandifolia is one of the known host plants for the native mistletoe Ileostylus micranthus or pirita. But the longer-lived mistletoe is better suited to a tree that will outlive it.