Learning Guide


Webb’s Bush is the largest native forest in Te Mata Park, containing karaka trees which are over 100 years old, as well as ngaio and māhoe that are many decades old. The name Webb’s is derived from Webb’s Nursery. The Webb family nursery donated  native trees for planting in 1945 to begin to restore this bush remnant, and plantings have continued up to the present.

Webb’s Bush is located in the valley of Te Heu, which is in the heart of the Park on the yellow track. It is of considerable ecological importance, with extensive plantings of karaka, māhoe, puriri, houhere, and other native plants that make up this forest ecosystem.

Forest Ecosystems

When living things like plants, animals, insects, and birds interact together, they form communities. These communities and the environment in which they exist are known as ecosystems. An ecosystem can be a river, forest, wetland, even your own backyard.

Healthy ecosystems have a large variety of plants and animals interacting together, creating food and shelter for each other.

What is forest ecology? 

Forest ecologist, Dr. Adam Forbes, explains forest ecology in the following videos in the context of Te Mata Park.

Webb’s Bush, a forest ecosystem, is protected by large, old trees that create the canopy (karaka, māhoe, houhere), hovering over all that is beneath it and acting as houses for insects, birds, and climbing vines.

As the forest grows over, they will be over-topped by large species (rimu, rewarewa, tawa, kahikatea). Below this roof of older trees, there are smaller, broadleaf trees. The next layer is the understory where seedlings, small trees, and ferns live. Here is where we find kawakawa, coprosma, and ongaonga.

The ecosystem then continues down to the ground on or in which spiders, worms, beetles, mosses, and fungi dwell, helping to break down the soil so it can become food for the plants of the forest. The plants and trees of this forest also flower and bear fruit, which attract native birds like kererū, tūī, and pīwakawaka.

Biodiversity and forest ecosystems

The forest ecosystem of Webb’s Bush is a biodiverse native bush, meaning that it boasts a wide range of native species. 

The living things within an ecosystem are organisms like plants, animals, trees, and insects that interact with each other and with the non-living things in the ecosystem, such as the weather, soil, sun, climate, and surrounding atmosphere.

Within Webb’s Bush, the forest provides food and shelter for the birds and creatures. There are many layers to this food chain, from the birds who hunt above and in the trees, to the birds and insects within the forest, down to the species which live in the forest floor.

Up in the canopy, the taller trees create a rooftop restaurant, providing food and habitat for predator birds and larger birds.

Within the forest, the plants and trees are connected to an above ground ecosystem which feeds on sunlight and air as well as an underground forest floor which is connected to the root systems of the plants.

On the ground, fungal decomposers (mushrooms and worms) break down leaves and wood from fallen branches and trees. The broken down bits of forest feed the trees and support the insects which live there. Each layer of the forest supports the ecosystem and keeps the cycle moving.

Ecosystems are fragile and the native species within must be protected to help to keep the system in balance.

Possums, stoats, rats, rabbits, and cats all pose threats to this ecosystem because they diminish bird populations by hunting them and their eggs as well as eating the fruit from the trees that provide food to the birds. Invasive exotic plants can upset this balance as well. Invasive weeds can invade large areas and form a dense cover, blocking out the native plants that birds and butterflies need to survive.

To help keep the ecosystem in balance, the Te Mata Park manages a pest control programme, removing animals that are a threat in order to protect birds and invertebrates. The Park also works to remove invasive weeds, providing more space for native plants to flourish.

Plants and animals depend on each other within an ecosystem and help it to maintain balance.

An example of this in Te Mata Park is the kahukura (translating to ‘red cloak’ in Māori) or Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla) and its relationship with our native stinging nettle, ongaonga (Urtica ferox- urtica from Latin meaning sting and ferox meaning fierce). The caterpillars of the kahukura feed on the leaves of the ongaonga, which is why you will see this poisonous plant along the tracks near the bottom of Webb’s Bush.

If touched, the ongaonga can give you an itchy, stinging rash, and it has been known to fatally injure dogs. While this plant has the potential to be dangerous, it is still a vital part of this ecosystem and must not be eradicated from Te Mata Park, because to remove it would result in the loss of large populations of the beautiful kahukura.

Native plants are those that occur naturally in the region in which they evolved, and therefore they are adapted to the soils, climates, and animals that co-evolved with them.

An ecosystem rich with native biodiversity is one where plants and animals thrive because they are able to live together in the place they are best suited to. Protecting our native environments like Webb’s Bush provides superior habitats for our native birds and insects while also creating clean air for us to breath.

Restoring native bush throughout Te Mata Park is part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for plants, birds, insects, and other living things as well as for us.

Biodiversity plays an important role in regulating the climate, thus making a key contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Biodiversity protects us. Biodiversity makes the earth habitable. Biodiverse ecosystems provide nature-based solutions that buffer us from natural disasters such as floods and storms, they filter our water and regenerate our soils. Natural ecosystems provide the foundations for human health and prosperity.


Activity 1:

Rakau (tree) and manu (bird) identification



Identify the many native plants, trees, and birds as you walk through Webb’s Bush. Using the attached identification card, locate and learn about these important rakau and manu. If you are bird watching, remember to keep your voice low and your body still so you can best observe who might be up in the canopy.

  • How many different types of plants can you identify? Look at the leaves closely and try to match them with the images.
  • How many different birds or insects, slaters, spiders, land hoppers, or worms did you see?
  • Record all the different types you see so you can learn more about them later.
Activity 2:

Powerful Kawakawa

Kawakawa can be found growing in dense pockets in the low lying areas of Webb’s Bush. These plants are known for their medicinal properties and have been used for generations as potent plant medicine, healing a variety of ailments. The leaves and fruit are used to make a tea and ingested for internal medicine, and the leaves can be applied to skin as a poultice to treat wounds and other skin complaints.

  1. Learn more about kawakawa before you visit Webb’s Bush
  2. When you are in Webb’s Bush, find a grove of kawakawa and observe the leaves and fruit (if they are fruiting during your hikoi).
  3. What do they look like? Do you notice anything about them?

You may notice that many of the leaves have holes in them. These holes are created by the caterpillars of the kawakawa looper moth, and these leaves are selected for making wai rakau (healing tea). Māori believed that kawakawa looper selected the leaves with the highest concentration of medicine, and therefore these leaves possessed greater healing properties and were used for rongoā (Māori plant medicine).

Studies have indicated that the leaves with holes are similar to leaves with no holes, however, plants do respond to changes in their environment and produce chemicals to pass messages and nutrients to other plants.

Activity 3:

Tree Diagram

Compare two trees in Webb’s Bush that are different to each other.

  • How are they different or the same?
  • What shapes are the leaves? What is the texture of the bark?

Place a paper against the tree and using a crayon on the paper, make a bark rubbing of each. Use these two pieces of paper to compare patterns. Back at the classroom, draw your two trees and label all the parts you can remember.

Learning Grid

  • Forest Layers

    Draw Webb’s Bush (or another forest you have been to) and label with as many parts of the forests you can remember. Include different types of trees, plants on the ground, and plants in the trees (epiphytes). Add anything you have learned about or can think of – interconnected roots, flowers, insects, birds, bats, and bugs. Use reference books and online photos for ideas.

  • Relationships in Ecosystems

    Draw a picture that illustrates the relationship between the kahukura (Red Admiral butterfly) and the ongaonga (stinging nettle)

  • Climate Warriors

    Read this article and learn more about the importance of fungus in our environment.

    Then answer the following: Why is fungus essential to our environment? How are fungi ‘Climate Warriors’? 

  • Webb’s Bush

    Come Visit !

    Plan a hikoi at Te Mata Peak and experience what you have learned about native forests.

  • Te Kahika Stream

    Use this map of Havelock North and locate Te Kahika stream, the water course on Te Mata Peak. Draw a plan of the stream from the source to the Karamū Stream. Include a reference key and add plants, birds, and bugs.

  • Tāne Mahuta

    Read about Tāne Mahuta

    Who is Tāne? Who are his parents? What did Tāne create?


  • What is a native plant?
  • Why do we want to protect our native plants? Choose a native plant that you learned about today and find out more.
  • What is on the forest floor?
  • What grows out of the soil? Why are decomposers important in the Great Web of Being of a forest ecosytem?
  • How do you think these plants and creatures help each other within their ecosystem?
  • What happens if a stoat, a rat, or invasive plant comes into this bush?
  • Are humans a part of this ecosystem?
  • What is our relationship to this bush?
  • What is your relationship to it?


  • Spend time in forests, get to know them.
  • Local involvement action in our own forests, active kaitiakitanga. 
  • Learn how to plan and plant a garden to attract native birds
  • Protect and sustain old growth forests – Keep the ancient tree, the grandmother, the legacy, so they can pass their knowledge to the future trees.