This article was published in the Titirangi Tatler, July 2009
Toropapa - the elusive perfume of the grove:
When you detect a beautiful fragrance while walking in the bush, pause and see if you can find the source.
From April until August it is most likely to be coming from a small shrub that sprawls through the undergrowth in an unassuming manner. It is hard enough to actually find the plant, but it takes an even keener eye to see the pretty pink trumpet flowers. Admittedly the flowers are variable in size and colour, but at their best they are a vivid 4cm long trumpet with a distinct frill or beard around the edge. In comparison with other New Zealand native flowers they are quite beautiful and certainly comparable with the popular exotic boronia. Although considered to be an unreliable flowering plant, on a good year toropapa can flower for months from April to August or even as late as December. The fruit are equally attractive, being 1cm bright red berries. Unfortunately these rarely set much viable seed except where indigenous nectar-feeding birds are common, such as on rodent-free offshore islands. Loss of the huia and the bellbird from our ranges consequently affects flowering plants such as the toropapa as well.
Attempting to describe the foliage is difficult as the plant has adapted to merge with its surrounding companions, whether they be broad-leafed mahoe, mapou with its small round leaf, or the long narrow leaf-form of lancewood.
In the Waitakere Ranges, west of Auckland, the common form is the largest leaf form with the botanical name of Alseuosmia macrophylla. The Genus name Alseuosmia is Latin for 'perfume of the grove". The shrub can be up to 2m tall, but generally sprawls and layers to make a rambling, scrambling shrub. The leaf can be marked with red spots and is about 10 cm long, but the official description allows wide variation of size and shape then finishes by saying "The species appears to be more polymorphic than has been recognized" - which allows almost any shape.
Toropapa or karapapa which are the Maori names for it, prefers a shaded site in a cool place with adequate moisture - but not boggy. A light dressing of fertiliser is good for it but compost possibly retains more moisture than the Alseuosmia can handle.
Although not considered nationally threatened, this species is often heavily browsed by possums, deer, goats and probably pigs.