'Fake' native plants to avoid

Pohutukawa are not native to the Wellington region

Some plants that are native to other regions of New Zealand but not to Wellington are making a negative impact here. These include popular species such as karo, karaka and pohutukawa, as well as lacebark and hybrids of houpara.

Horticulture has led to the introduction of exotic species closely related to our native ones like several species of kowhai; these pose a risk to our endemic flora.

Some nurseries stock plant varieties that sound familiar and seem to be native but are not. These varieties may merge with local stock and change the look, colours and textures of local nature. Horticulture exacerbated this problem by actively selecting unusual variants. This applies to pohutukawa and rata species, Chilean and Lord Howe kowhai species such as the "goldilocks" and "Otari Gnome" even manuka and kanuka. 

Help birds spread native seeds, not weeds. Remove weeds and plant more local natives so our birds will help scatter seeds that benefit our forests.

Non-native lookalikes

Make sure the species you plant is native to New Zealand, and locally native too. Just because a plant looks familiar at first glance doesn’t guarantee it belongs in our region; it may pose a threat.

Common mistakes

  • Tasmanian ngaio looks similar to New Zealand ngaio
  • Kawakawa from the Pacific and other offshore island varieties 
  • Tree ferns from off-shore islands and Australia
  • Kowhai from Chile and Lord Howe Island
  • Nikau palm from Kermadec Island

Take at look at our weed list below, or head to www.weedbusters.co.nz. The book "Native Forest Restoration: A Practical Guide for Landowners" by Tim Porteous may also be of use (Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, 1993).

Native weeds: non locally native species to avoid

Order by

Common name Scientific name  


Scientific name: Pseudopanax lessonii
Other names: Coastal five finger
Tree, shrub

Houpara and its hybrids have escaped from cultivation, effectively becoming invasive weeds outside their native distribution. Houpara is native to the northern North Island, but… Read more.



Scientific name: Hoheria
Tree, shrub

Although lacebark is a popular garden and landscape plant, none of its species - or their variegated cultivars or hybrids - belong in the Wellington… Read more.



Scientific name: Pittosporum crassifolium
Tree, shrub

Karo out-competes slow growing coastal plants on open cliff sides, slopes and dunes. It is changing the structure and composition of our native plant community.

Read more.


Scientific name: Corynocarpus laevigatus
Other names: Kopi
Tree, shrub

The majority of botanists agree karaka is native only to the northern half of the North Island. Karaka is a fast growing, shade tolerant species,… Read more.


Pampas grass

Scientific name: Cortaderia selloana, C. jubata
Grass or similar


This giant pirenial clump forming grass grows to a height of 3-5m tall. It contains large fluffy flowerheads. The flowers of C. selloana has… Read more.



Scientific name: Metrosideros excelsa

Pohutukawa’s red flowers might look jolly along our streets and gardens, but in many places around New Zealand our grand pohutukawa is becoming a serious… Read more.


Tasmanian ngaio

Scientific name: Myoporum insulare
Other names: Boobialla
Tree, shrub

Tasmanian ngaio, also called boobialla, is very similar to New Zealand’s ngaio, Myoporum laetum. Tasmanian ngaio has been commonly planted around Wellington in the mistaken… Read more.



Scientific name: Vitex lucens

Puriri is a relative newcomer to the list of misplaced natives; it is beginning to spread around the Wellington region but is not locally endemic.

Read more.