Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 27, September 1983

By Gary Staples


Gorse was brought here by the settlers to be used both as a hedge plant and as a fodder crop for domestic stock. (Under intensive grazing in Britain gorse was considered to be a fodder almost as good as clover hay and better than turnips).

In the early day of the Colony there was a good demand for gorse, with importers selling seed both to the public and nurseries. As early as 1835 Charles Darwin, while on his world voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle, noted that gorse was being used as a hedge plant at the new settlement of Waimate, near the Bay of Islands. The spread of gorse by the early settlers was inevitably associated with the alteration of large areas of the country as the lowland forests were cleared and burnt. Gorse flourished in its new, temperate environment, where the grazing was mainly extensive rather than intensive.

In some areas gorse soon became a problem. In 1859 the provincial legislatures of Taranaki and Nelson passed laws compelling farmers to keep gorse hedges trimmed and to stop the planting of new hedges. Penalties were also specified for allowing it to grow in public places. Even so, it was not until 1900 that gorse was declared a noxious weed, which gave local bodies the power to deal with it in problem districts. The 1928 version of the Noxious Weeds Act was the last in which mention was made of gorse being sown for fodder.


Like many other weeds, gorse is a pioneer plant and grows best in disturbed unshaded sites. Most of the land which is now covered with gorse, has been marginal farm land, cleared during periods of higher

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native scrub, which in turn acts as a nurse for the re-establishment of native forest trees. The most important feature of this native forest regeneration beneath gorse is that it can be considerably quicker than regeneration beneath manuka or kanuka on similar sites.

If land covered in gorse can be left alone, much of the country's "wasteland" will end up reclothed in native forest. These changes have been observed by myself on the Karangahake mountain over a period of 30 years. Bush is regenerating well in those areas that have not been burnt but regretfully there has been a number of fires over the years in many areas.