Meet parapara, the native plant with the badass reputation of being the bird catcher tree.
The flowers look innocent enough - small, boring and white - but are deliciously scented like many native plants that lure moths to pollinate them. Those flowers develop into long ribbed torpedos that secrete the stickiest gum. Or, put another pointy-headed scientific way, they are "exuding an extremely viscid exudate".
What the heck does that mean?
It means they are the stickiest of the sticky, right up there with bubble gum in your hair. Just try to get parapara seeds off your hands or ask Milo, one of a few highly trained dogs employed to detect cats on islands cleared of pests.
Milo's recent tour of duty on Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island (off Coromandel) saw her most unimpressed with parapara seed caught between her toes. She flicked her feet and tried to bite them out. Her grim face said it all. So for the next trip she had special booties made to wear for cat-searching beneath parapara groves.
This hardcore goo is a genius trick to get large ocean-travelling native birds to transport seed to long distance locations.
The pre-human world of parapara is one we can scarcely now imagine - our coastal rainforests teemed with millions of seabirds, their nesting burrows woven beneath pohutukawa and puriri roots. Crayfish were as big as dogs and paua as big as dinner plates.
When large seabirds flew on their big OE they took parapara seeds with them, stuck to their feathers. That's why parapara grows on the Hawaiian Islands, Rarotonga, Australia, Norfolk, Kermadec, Lord Howe Islands and northern New Zealand.
Multi-trunked parapara would have been a common understorey tree that grew with nīkau and kohekohe around the coast of Northland, Auckland, Coromandel and even at East Cape. But that was before farms, suburbs and McMansions. That was before large mammals with tongues, teeth and lips did what native birds did not. Over time, possums, cattle and goats have eaten parapara to death on the mainland. Only two original parapara trees are known to remain in the North Island, on opposite sides of the Northland coast.
The large lush leaves have made them a yummy plant preferred by the larger furry invaders, while rats scoff the seed and seedlings too.
Although they don't like wind or frost, parapara are seen occasionally in gardens. My Auntie June has a gaudy variegated parapara in Palmerston North, surviving under the eaves of her house. While waiting in bank queues I've also seen parapara innocently growing as indoor plants, sprucing up the grey corporate spaces, the public oblivious.
However, some on high horses have decided they needed to murder urban parapara trees to "save the birds" and have lobbied garden centres not to sell these rare native gems. Why? Because on the odd occasion some small, usually exotic and common bird dies, smothered in sticky parapara seeds.
The plight of dying pohutukawa once sparked national action but there are no Save the Parapara groups. No bumper stickers blaring Give Parapara a Chance - even though there are places presumably named after this notable tree.
So, after all the attacks, parapara are safe from crazy humans and other molestation only on northern rat-free islands, where they are reportedly making a "spectacular comeback". May they live long and prosper!