Passionate about New Zealand’s plants and wildlife, Robert Vennell is the author of The Meaning of Trees; The history and use of New Zealand’s native plants. He is currently the Collection Manager for Botany at the Auckland Museum Herbarium.
Rob has a lifelong passion for forests and spent his childhood building forts out of nīkau fronds, trying to catch eels with lancewood spears, drinking the nectar of harakeke flowers and soaking up stories of survival in the wild. As an adult, while researching the impact of wild pigs on our forests, he’d camp in remote areas of the Waitākere and Hunua ranges, surviving on edible leaves, berries, roots and shoots.
The great forests of Tāne provided everything to sustain life, says Rob. They were a supermarket, chemist, garden centre, hunting ground, hardware store and playground. Still, he says, many of us suffer from what he calls “plant blindness” - an inability to see and recognize plants in our daily life. By learning the stories of our native plants, we suddenly begin to look at them in a new light, and the forest becomes alive with meaning.
“Trees are awesome creatures in our landscape and we have used them in all sorts of different ways: economically, scientifically and spiritually.”