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Ngā Hekaheka: fungi with a Māori lens

Rangatahi around Aotearoa are unearthing the hidden universe of fabulous fungi through a new book for students and teachers that combines Māori knowledge and science.

Rangatahi looking at mushrooms

Ākonga (students) at Kura Kaupapa Māori are discovering mushrooms and their relatives through a new book called Ngā Hekaheka o Aotearoa (Fungi of New Zealand), which reconnects them with Māori knowledge about fungi.

Written in te reo Māori, the illustrated book shares mātauranga (Māori knowledge) about fungi while showing how they feed, grow, and reproduce as well as why they are so important in our forests and other environments.

Ngā Hekaheka book

As a project, Ngā Hekaheka o Aotearoa was the brainchild of Peter Buchanan at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research. But Peter acknowledges that the book was only possible through close collaboration with his co-authors, Māori education expert Georgina Stewart at AUT and experienced translator Hēni Jacob, along with the design skills of the publisher Huia.

Peter says that the most important thing for him was to try and genuinely put knowledge about fungi into a cultural context, and to help renew awareness of the sometimes forgotten uses of fungi. He hopes that the book will make the stories and information about fungi of Aotearoa more meaningful to rangatahi and their whānau.

Peter with Puffball fungus

At Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Maungarongo in Auckland, Peter and Georgina co-ran a demonstration to show kaiako (teachers) how to explore what is in the book together with their ākonga.

Peter, alongside Georgina who gave explanations in te reo Māori, showed the students a variety of weird and wonderful fungi – from a football-sized puffball fungus to the blue mushrooms seen on our $50 banknote.

Georgina showing caterpillar fungis

“I liked seeing all the strange fungi, especially the really big, round one,” says Takiri, 14.

Puhiwahine, 11, adds “I found it interesting learning about the life cycles of the different fungi”.

“My favourite one was the one growing out of the caterpillar, says Tamsin, 11. “It just looked so weird!”

Fungi on table

Breeze, 13, says that she most enjoyed the spore-printing activity they all tried.

This involved taking the cap of a shop-bought portobello mushroom and putting it face-down on a piece of paper.

The mushroom then releases its dark spores onto the paper overnight, which creates a spore print reflecting the position of its gills.

Close-up of students doing the activity

Hakawai Livingstone (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tūhoe), a kaiāwhina (helper) at the school, says that he has mātauranga about fungi from his traditional Māori upbringing, so for him it was particularly interesting to learn about a scientist’s perspective on fungi.

“It was great hearing from the scientist Peter, who talked about some fungi that even I didn’t know about,” he says.

Showing a spore print

Dianne Pomare, Principal at TKKM o Ngā Maungarongo, adds that she was surprised to learn just how much variety the fungal world has.

“It’s really great to have this because normally we just look at animals and plants, and fungi are often overlooked,” she says, “Many science topics at school don’t include them.”

Student looking at a spore print

Class sets of the book and its accompanying bilingual teacher guide have been sent out to over 100 Kura Kaupapa across Aotearoa. The teacher guide can also be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

“I’m looking forward to hearing back from the kura and how they’ve found using the book, now that autumn is on its way and fungi are becoming more visible for them to explore,” Peter says.

Read the teacher guide and find out how to order this book

Dianne looking a spore print


About the project

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research logoAUT logoNgā Hekaheka o Aotearoa is run by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research and AUT with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.


Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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