Kiwi Gardener




We planted several hibiscus last year in our new garden and they grew and flowered well. In September, we noticed something had been eating them; leaves were disappeari­ng, some were shredded, and small branches were broken. Then one day I spotted a big fat kererū perched on this poor frail hibiscus so rushed out and chased it away. Our neighbours have had hibiscus for a few years with no damage, but now it’s started there too. We love having kererū around the place and I’ve seen them eat cabbage tree and nīkau seeds, but my hibiscus! Have you heard of this before?

M. Richardson, Waiheke Island Answer

It doesn’t surprise me. Kererū feed on a wide range of shrubs and trees, reportedly over 100 native and over 50 exotic species. Depending on the time of year and stage of growth, they’ll eat twigs, buds, leaves, shoots, flowers and fruit. For such a large bird, they’re incredibly agile and land on the most precarious­ly fragile plants to feast on whatever takes their fancy at the time. In late winter and spring, blossoms and new leaves on fruit trees like plum and cherry are fair game, as are the new leaves on kōwhai, and, in your case, hibiscus leaves.

Most parts of hibiscus are edible, and the flowers of some other hibiscus family plants are too, including abutilons – they’re lovely in a salad. Kererū are vital to the survival of some native forest trees like taraire (Beilschmie­dia tarairi) and karaka (Corynocarp­us laevigatus) as they are the only native bird species surviving that’s capable of swallowing their large fruits and spreading the seeds. They’re responsibl­e for spreading seeds of weedy, invasive plants too. We had a kererū crash into a window once and fall dead to the ground; its crop burst open to release a mass of freshly swallowed tree privet berries.

People have tried various methods to deter kererū from landing on their plants, including hanging old computer discs in trees and shrubs, bits of white tape or strips of plastic bags that move in the breeze. Sometimes they do help. However, sooner or later the kererū will move on to feed on other plants elsewhere and your hibiscus should recover. Prune out the broken bits and give them some fertiliser to encourage strong new growth.

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