Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Feki [Proto Central Eastern Polynesian] + *Ponga [Proto Polynesian]



Dicksonia fibrosa, (Dicksoniaceae).

Alternative names: Pūnui, Kuranuipākā, Kuripaka, Tūkirunga (all of local origin); Whekï-köhunga [Proto Central Eastern Polynesian *fekï + PCEPn köfanga "nest"]


This very sturdy tree fern grows natively from the Bay of Plenty and Waikato south. It was especially valuable up until the early nineteenth century as the source of rat-proof lining for pätaka kai (food-storage houses). The trunk proper is relatively slender, but it is covered with a thick layer of densely matted aerial roots. The mature tree reaches a height of about six metres, about the same as its close relative, the wheki, but shorter than some of the other New Zealand tree ferns like the mamaku, Cyathea medullaris, which reaches heights of 15 metres or more. It is found in open scrubland, forest margins and sometimes in forest interiors, and its appearance is much less affected by sun and wind than most other tree ferns. It is a very versatile plant, which seems to grow well both in the interior of swampy forests and on exposed hillsides.

Like the other Dicksonias, the stipes (stems) of the fronds are hairy (unlike the other set of New Zealand tree ferns, the Cyatheas, which have small scales covering the stipes). The dead fronds generally hang on to the trunk for years, so the green crown on mature trees can have quite a long, thick skirt of dry fronds below it. This has the advantage of preventing epiphytic plants from attaching themselves to the upper part of the trunk of a growing tree.

Because the visible "trunk" is actually a very thick blanket of aerial roots, when the fronds do fall off or are removed, the lower parts of the stipes do not persist as a sheath covering the trunk, as they do in the wheki. The bare "trunk" is a favourite medium for horticulturalists needing suitable material to use for attaching some epiphytic species of orchids and bromeliads. In recent years the trunks of the whekï-ponga have also become a favourite medium for garden sculptures.

It is interesting to note that despite the continued utility and economic importance of the wheki-ponga as a horticultural plant, medium for art work, and source of fibre for specialist growing media etc., there is very little detailed information about this species on the web, and most references in the literature are rather cursory. It seems to be one of those plants whose value is implictly recognized but seldom attracts explicit attention!

CaptionUpper surface of whekï-ponga frond

PCEPn: *Feki Cyathea affinis (Cyatheaceae) & probably other frond-bearing slim-trunked trees +
PPN *Ponga Cyathea spp. & other tree ferns

Cognates: Wheki
Tahitian: Fë'ï (Musa troglodytarum [Musaceae])
Marquesan: Heki (Cyathea sp. [Cyatheaceae])
Hawaiian: Hë'ï (Ipomoea batatas cultivar [Convolvulaceae]; also Musa troglodytarum [Musaceae] and Carica papaya [Caricaceae] & possibly Cibotium menziesii [Dicksoniaceae]
Rarotongan: 'eki (Cyathea parksiae & C. feani [Cyatheaceae])

Cognates: Ponga
Tongan: Ponga (Sphaeropteris lunulata & Alsophila rugosula [Cyatheaceae]; Angiopteris commutata & A. evecta [Marattiaceae])
Samoan: Paoga (Cyathea truncata & Sphaeropteris lunulata [Cyatheaceae], also possibly formerly a general term for Cyathea & related species)
Rarotongan: Ponga (Cyathea dealbata); possibly panga (Cyathea decurrens)

Note: See the linked pages of the proto-forms *feki and *ponga for notes on problems with the cognate words listed above.

Caption Above: Upper portion of trunk of the wheki-ponga from which the old fronds have been removed (the lower ones have fallen off naturally). Note the grass which has established itself epiphytically among the fibres!

Caption Above: This is the wheki-ponga in the photograph on the left. It was planted in Te Mära Reo about 10 years ago, and the trunk is about 2 metres high. The girdle of old fronds left undisturbed reaches almost to the ground.

Caption Above: The underside of a fertile frond, showing the sori.

Caption Above: A sculpted wheki-ponga orchid pot.

Further Information

There is a little information about the wheki-ponga (and much more about the wheki) on the Auckland University School of Biological Sciences website. There is also a very brief entry with just one photograph in the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network's web site.

Photographs. All the photographs on this page are from Te Mära Reo

Hue flower

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