Mid-dune plants

Immediately landward of the foredune is the slightly more sheltered mid-dune zone.

This semi-stable transition zone between the dynamic foredune zone and the stable landward zone is dominated by a limited number of low-growing, or hardy, wind-tolerant natives.


Wire vine | Muehlenbeckia complexa

Pohuehue (Wire vine | Muehlenbeckia complexa).

Pohuehue is common on Northland dunes where it provides shelter and food for several native creatures including a native copper butterfly that only lives on this species. Planted behind the foredune sand-binders, it also helps discourage people from trampling them.


This wiry vine with tiny, dark green leaves forms dense springy mats up to 1m high.

Flowers and seeding:

Numerous creamy white flowers appear in summer.


Success from planting is better in sheltered, low-lying sites. Planting with wiwi to increase shelter can improve establishment.

Sand Copromsa

Tarakupenga | Coprosma acerosa

Sand coprosma (Tarakupenga | Coprosma acerosa).

Sand coprosma is still fairly common on Northland dunes, but has become very scarce in more developed regions such as Auckland.


Sand coprosma is a low-growing shrub with small, yellow-green leaves.

Flowers and seeding:

It produces pale blue, edible berries.


This plant is easily damaged by trampling.


It can be grown from seed or cuttings. Planting success is better in more sheltered sites and with protection from trampling.


Knobby club rush | Ficinia nodosa

Wiwi (Knobby club rush | Ficinia nodosa).

This hardy, native, rush-like plant is very common on Northland's dunes. It can sometimes be found growing on the foredune, amongst the spinifex, but is more common in the mid-dune zone.


Wiwi grows in rush-like clumps. Its stems are tall and thin with brown knobby spikelets of flowers near the tip.

Flowers and seeding:

Flowers appear from September to December, and fruits from November to May.


Wiwi is raised easily from seed and planted on exposed mid-dune sites. Clumps split from larger plants can be successfully transplanted.


Harakeke | Phormium tenax

Flax (Harakeke | Phormium tenax).

Flax is very common and widespread in Northland. It provides food for bellbirds, tui and silver-eyes as well as lizards and bees.


Fan-like clumps of stiff, upright leaves up to 2m, with red flowers on tall stalks.

Flowers and seeding:

Flowering usually occurs from October to December.


Flax grows easily from fresh seed, but is usually grown by the dividing rooted fans from established plants. It's best planted into damp dune hollows.

Sand Daphne

Toroheke | Pimelea villosa

Sand daphne (Toroheke | Pimelea villosa).

This endangered native plant is in decline and is now rare. Where it does occur, sand daphne forms low-growing circular shrubs scattered along the lightly vegetated transition between the foredune and mid-dune zone.


This is a low-growing, sprawling shrub with small pale-green, velvety leaves.

Flowers and seeding:

Flowers appear from September to March, and seeds from October to April.


It is threatened by competition from invasive exotics; trampling by stock; browsing of seedlings by possums and rabbits; seed destruction by rodents; and vehicle damage.


Sand daphne can be grown from seed or cuttings.

Cabbage Tree

Ti kouka | Cordyline australis

Cabbage tree (Ti kouka | Cordyline australis).

With its distinctive form and many fragrant flowers, this iconic coastal tree grows naturally in the mid-dune and back-dune zones. Its berries provide food for the native wood pigeon (kukupa).


Cabbage trees grow up to 12m high, though are often smaller in more exposed mid-dune sites.

Flowers and seeding:

Small white flowers appear in clumps October to December. The tree seeds from January to March.


Cabbage trees are grown easily from fresh seed and cuttings, and establish naturally from bird-dispersed seed. They will tolerate a range of soils and climates but dislike long periods of drought.

Speckled Sedge

Carex testacea

Speckled sedge (Carex testacea) (Photo credit - NZPCN, John Smith-Dodsworth).

This attractive native sedge is found only in New Zealand. It is very hardy and grows in a variety of habitats.


This bright orange sedge forms small, tussock-like, dense clumps up to 0.6m high.

Flowers and seeding:

Flowers appear from September to December, and seeds from November to May (though seeds may be present throughout the year).


It is easily grown from fresh seed or by division of established plants. It can be grown in full sun or deep shade but prefers a free draining soil.


Austroderia splendens

Toetoe (Austroderia splendens).

This native dune plant is often confused with the invasive pampas grass (see below).


This graceful, tussock-forming tall grass has leaves up to 1m and flowers up to 3m.

Flowers and seeding:

Toetoe flowers from September to November and seeds from October to March.


It is easily grown from fresh seed and division of established plants.

Toetoe or Pampas?

Pampas grass (cortaderia selloana).






Exotic pampas is now more common than the native toetoe due to the large volumes of wind dispersed seed.

Some handy hints to tell them apart:

  • Pampas flowers in the autumn, while toetoe flowers in the spring.
  • The edges of pampas leaves will cut your fingers but toetoe won't.
  • Remnants of dead pampas leaves form curls at the base of the plant, but toetoe retains its old leaves.
  • Pampas has no visible vein between the mid-rib and edge of the leaf, while toetoe has a vein there.
  • Toetoe leaves are shinier than pampas.