Muehlenbeckia astonii is rare in the wild but easily propagated from seeds. Also known as Shrubby Tororaro, it is one of the best and most attractive coastal shrubs. It grows into a tangled mass of reddish wiry stems covered with small heart-shaped leaves and small cream flowers. It can also be shaped into a decorative hedge. For revegetation purposes, Pohuehue is a pioneer species and supports a range of wildlife as food, shelter and protection. It sometimes climbs over bushes, rocks and poles. Extremely hardy, semi-deciduous.
Unlike most New Zealand plants M. astonii is leafless in winter. This is when the distinctive branches add interest to the garden. It grows from a distinct trunk and has many fine reddish-brown to orange flexible branches that zigzag around one another to form a dense, interwoven ball. Its flowers, appearing from December to January, are tiny and are greenish to white or pinkish white. The fruits are sweet and edible, eaten by birds and lizards. The plant is an important host for several endemic insect species and in some cases their sole host.
Muehlenbeckia astonii was probably once widely distributed in the drier lowland and coastal parts of the east coast, especially on terraced riverbeds, possibly as far south as South Canterbury. Its deep root system helps it survive in dry conditions, and can grow on open rocky hillsides and stony ground. It prefers free-draining, warm, sunny slopes, such as the mid-dune areas along the coast in association with (but not limited to) Ozothamnus leptophyllus, Coprosma acerosa, and Poa cita. For more information about sand dune communities, recommend DOC’s publication Native Plant Communities of the Canterbury Plains.