Last edited 4 years ago
by Elise

New Zealand botanical terms

New Zealand plants are special. Many are unique to our island country and found nowhere else in the world. The descriptive clues in botanical names are rewarding if you translate or understand the terms themselves. The names of our plants reflect their discoverers, place of origin and our history.

Visit 'Alter-Natives' for even more information about why plants are cultivars or hybrids and many other interesting facts

For the international glossary of plant descriptions visit the Wikipedia Glossary of botanical terms


Aciphylla the Spaniard for the sharp, needle leaves

Agathis the kauri, from agathis 'ball of thread' for the distinctive cones

Arthropodium the rengarenga lily, from 'arthro' a joint and 'podion' stalk (has jointed pedicels)

Astelia stem-less australis southern, as in Cordyline australis


banksii named for Sir Joseph Banks, botanist on Captain Cook's voyages

bidwillii named for John Bidwill, early New Zealand alpine plant enthusiast

buchananii named for John Buchanan, early New Zealand botanist


Celmisia mountain daisies, after Celmisios in Greek mythology

chathamicus/chathamica of the Chatham Islands

Clianthus kaka beak, from 'kleos' glory and 'anthos' flower for the distinctive flowers

colensoi named for William Colenso, early botanist

Coprosma smelling of manure

Cordyline the cabbage tree, meaning a club as the large and fleshy roots resemble

Corokia from the Maori name 'Korokio' cunnihamii named for Allan Cunningham, early botanist


Dicksonia the tree fern, for James Dickson a Scottish nurseryman and naturalist

dieffenbachii for Dr Ernst Dieffenbach, naturalist

Dracophyllum the grass trees, from 'draco' dragon and 'phyllum' leaf


Griselinia the broadleaf, for Franseco Griselini, naturalist


haastii for Julius von Haast, explorer

Hebe for the Greek Goddess of youth 'Hebe'

Hoheria for the Moari name 'Houhere'

hookeri for Sir William or Sir Joseph Hooker, directors of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew


kirkii for Thomas Kirk, early botanist


Leptospermum the manuka, 'leptos' or slender and ' sperma' or seed for the narrow seeds

lessonii/lessoniana for Pierre Lesson, surgeon and botanist

lyallii for David Lyall, surgeon


Metrosideros the rata and pohutukawa for their very hard wood; 'metra' heartwood and 'sideros' iron hard

monroi for Sir David Monro, plant collector

Muehlenbeckia after Muehlenbeck, a French physician and botanist

Myosotidium the Chatham Island Forget-me-not, for Myosotis the European forgetme-not


Nothofagus native beech, from 'nothos' false and 'fagus' the beech novae-zelandiae meaning 'of New Zealand'


Olearia because it resembles an olive tree (Olea)


Pachystegia the Marlborough Rock Daisy, from 'pakys' or thick for the thick leaves

Phormium New Zealand flax, from 'phormoin' or a mat, a reference to the traditional Maori weaving of flax and flax fibres

Pittosporum for the sticky seeds, as 'pitta' means pitch or tar and 'sporum' seeds

Plagianthus 'plagios' oblique and 'anthhos' flower for the asymmetrical flowers

Podocarpus the totara, from 'podos' foot and 'karpos' fruit for the stalked fruit

Pseudopanax lancewoods and the five-finger, from 'pseudo' false and 'panax' a related genus


richardii for Achille Richard, French botanist


sinclairii Andrew Sinclair an early plant collector

solandri Daniel Solander botanist on the Cook voyages

Sophora the kowhai, from 'sophera' the Arabic name for a tree with pea shaped flowers


traversii William Travers early plant collector, lawyer and politician

tomentose: densely wooly or soft-matted hairiness

tomentulose: like tomentose but less so

torulose: twisted or knobby


williamsii for William Williams, Bishop of Waiapu in the nineteenth century


Xeronema Poor Knights Lily, from 'xeros' dry