Local iwi Ngāti Rangi has gifted a Māori name for a new species of alpine cress, discovered on the southwestern slopes of Mt Ruapehu.

Ngāti Rangi, who are mana whenua over the portion of Mt Ruapehu where the species was found, has gifted the name of the white flowered cress - Cardamine panatohea.

The name is derived from the names "panapana", a common name for the type of cress, and "tītōhea", which is the description of the land above the bush line on Mt Ruapehu. For Whanganui tribes the term tītōhea means a sacred area, usually desert or mountainous, where special species live.

Ngāti Rangi chairman Che Wilson said that giving a Māori name acknowledged the need to treat the area with great respect.


"In giving this name for this specific Ruapehu-based species, it is acknowledging the need to treat the entire area, and not just the species, with special care and is an encouragement to all to remember that Ruapehu is the sacred altar for the Whanganui tribes and is recognised for both its cultural and natural heritage status," Wilson said.

The alpine zone of the Central Volcanic Plateau was a unique habitat with special plants and animals that should be cherished and respected by visitors, he said.

Discovered in 2012 by scientists Peter de Lange from the School of Environmental and Animal Sciences at Unitec, and Peter Heenan, a Research Associate at Landcare Research, the cress is the first flowering plant to be found that appears to be endemic to Mt Ruapehu.

The two scientists wanted to work with Ngāti Rangi to find a suitable species name for the plant, using te reo Māori. They and Ngāti Rangi wanted to link the find to the mountain on which it was located and the people who now help manage the land in partnership with the Department of Conservation.

"We believe that Mt Ruapehu is the only area where the new species is known but we're making further investigations to establish whether this is, in fact, the case," de Lange said.

"We suspect that Cardamine panatohea and a range of other special plants found in association with it were survivors of the Taupō pumice eruption of around 200 AD and somehow missed the devastation caused by it.

"We know that eruption wiped out most of the vegetation of the Central Volcanic Plateau but the portion of Ruapehu in which the new species was found seems to have been sheltered from the blast."