*Kuta [Proto Polynesian]


Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (Cyperaceae)


Alternative names: kāpūngāwhā, paopao, papao, kōpūpū, kōpūpūngāwhā, ngāwhā, pūwāwā, all apparently of local origin.

From Proto East Central Pacific *Kuta Eleocharis sp. (Cyperaceae); through
Proto Polynesian: *Kuta Eleocharis dulcis (Cypearceae).

Flower spike kutakuta
Kutakuta in flower.

A surface-flow treatment wetland. Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (Kutakuta) is the dominant species in the foreground.

Tongan: Kuta, Kutu (Eleocharis dulcis, Cyperaceae); Kuta (mats woven from the culms of this sedge);
Samoan: 'utu'utu (Eleocharis dulcis, Cyperaceae);
Mangaian: Kuta (Eleocharis sp.?, Cyperaceae).

Kuta (Eleocharis sphacelata, Cyperaceae)
Note: See the other linked page (highlighted at the top of this page) for more information about the ancestral names, their modern descendents, and the plants they denote.

Kutakuta culmKutakuta, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, also called kāpūngāwhā and several other names, including giant bulrush and lake club-rush, is the sedge formerly known botanically as Scirpus lacustris, which is listed in many Māori dictionaries as the botanical name for kuta, also a member of the sedge family but a different species (Eleocharis sphacelata).

The name kutakuta means "like a kuta", which is a good description of its general appearance. Unlike the kuta, however, its round culms are not divided by internal septa (walls), so have a smooth outer appearance, unlike the rings which are visible on the stems of the kuta. The culms also have a rather dull blue-green hue, in contrast with the yellow-green culms of the kuta. As you can see from the photograph below, left, they are also filled with a spongy pith. This may possibly explain the origin of one of the alternative names for this plant - kōpūpū (from Proto Central Eastern Polynesian *kōpūpū "blistered, bloated" ( Māori kopū "blistered, full up"), in contrast with the hollow stems of the kuta. However, this name is also given to some moisture-loving ferns (e.g. Blechnum fluviatilis), raupō, and several other species of rush, so there may well be no connection between the plant name and the adjective.

Like the kuta, kutakuta may be dried for weaving, but its culms are more brittle, so they must be dampened before use. They also lack the beautiful golden glow of the dried kuta.

Section of Kutakuta culm Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani is an easy plant to propagate from the rhizomes, and has proved to be very useful in wetland restoration, and also in drainage fields for greywater recycling systems (as that pictured above). Like the kuta, it is excellent for absorbing pollutants in waterways and generally improving the overall health of the ecosystems which it inhabits. The species is widely distributed around the world, from Southern Asia to the Americas. Its Latin name has undergone several changes at the hands of botanists, from Scirpus lacustris and Scirpus validus to Schoenoplectus lacustris, S. validus, S. lacustris subsp. validus, and, most recently S. tabernaemontani, so perhaps its plethora of Māori names is not so surprising.

References and further reading: Landcare research has a highly informative page on kuta and kāpūngāwhā (kutakuta) as weaving plants. Kutakuta is also featured in NIWA's New Zealand Constructed Wetland Planting Guidelines, from which the photo of the surface-draining wetland was taken. There is also a page on Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani on the NZ Plant Conservation Network's web site. Further information is available on the websites linked to the photo credits.

Photographs: The photographs of the flowering kutakuta and the culm are from the Illinois Wildflowers web site. The illustration of the cross-section of the stem is from the Western New Mexico University Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness" pages. The wetland planting is from the NIWA planting guide (see reference and link above).

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License