Mānuka — it's known as liquid gold, but it's also the subject of recent controversy with fake mānuka honey doing the rounds and the Australians trying to claim it as their own.

Associate Professor Mike Clearwater from the University of Waikato explores the plant behind the honey at the next Café Scientifique in Tauranga on Monday, November 19.

"From reviled weed to treasured medicinal plant, our view of mānuka has always depended on its role in our lives. For many that view has been transformed by the discovery of the properties of its unusual honey," says Mike.

"As the mānuka honey industry continues to expand rapidly, millions of seedlings are being planted, and landowners, bee keepers and exporters are competing fiercely for access to a limited resource."

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What is it that makes this plant so different?

Mike will examine the latest research on mānuka, from its genetics to the biology of nectar production. How does the plant make nectar, and why does the nectar contain its active ingredients? Is it really the same plant growing in Australia, and how does the nectar of its Australian cousins compare with the local varieties?

A manuka plant in full bloom is a haven for bees.
A manuka plant in full bloom is a haven for bees.

A plant biologist, Mike originally studied at the University of Auckland, before undertaking a PhD at the University of Edinburgh and post-doctoral work in the US.
Upon returning to New Zealand he joined Plant and Food Research in Te Puke as a research scientist, spending much of his time working on the biology of the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit and avocado crops.

Transferring to the University of Waikato in 2009, he is now leading a research project examining the biology of flowering and nectar production by mānuka.

His research expertise includes plant physiology, vascular biology and the development of flowers and fruit.

Café Scientifique, located at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club, 90 Keith Allen Drive, Sulphur Point, is a regular Tauranga-based seminar series.

Doors open 6.30pm, presentation starts 7pm. There is a $5 cover charge.