‘What little seedling abounds in the bush at the moment? I need about a hundred.’ This was my request to Colleen, who lives up the road from the bach. Her property lies deep in the bush, amidst tall kauri, rimu, tanekaha and totara trees. ‘Have a look at the hen and chicken ferns,’ said Colleen, ‘and look for the little ‘chickens’. You can easily lift them off.’
She was right. I checked the ferns (known to Maori as mouki), the very ones that I grew from Colleen’s seedlings a few years ago, and sure enough little babes were perching all over the fronds like green spiders.
As I held them, I felt a sense of wonder at the miracle of such delicate, tenacious life. They would be perfect to hand around at the talk I’m giving on ‘Engaging with the sacred in nature.’
When I checked Andrew Crowe’s ‘Native Edible Plants of New Zealand’, I discovered that the young curled shoots were a favourite relish for Maori. Among my ferns I found just one furry fiddlehead rising up from the middle. After stripping away the dark fuzz and steaming it, I enjoyed a delectable snack: bitter in the very inside of the coil, but surprisingly sweet as I made my way to the base. Bush asparagus! I think spring must be the season of surprises.