Ornamental berries give turutu its charm

Dianella nigra in the Dunedin Botanic Garden. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Dianella nigra in the Dunedin Botanic Garden. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The handsome little plant Dianella nigra is fruiting around Dunedin Botanic Garden’s native plant collection.

The genus Dianella is large, containing a range of strap-leaved species from throughout the Asia Pacific region. Our little Dianella nigra occurs only in Aotearoa. Common names include turutu, ink berry, flax lily, and New Zealand blueberry.

Before you ask: the berries are not tasty to eat. But as an ornamental feature, they give turutu its delicate charm.

Turutu looks like a miniature flax — not harakeke, but the more lax-leaved mountain flax, wharariki. Turutu and flax are in the same family, the Asphodelaceae. But in the wild and in the garden, the two are rather different characters.

While wharariki loves exposure, gathering proudly on hillsides where sun and wind can batter it about, turutu dwells in dappled shade. Wharariki swallows up space in your garden, thrusting up its sturdy seed pods to be blown about, and cheekily splaying its leaves to trip you up as you walk down your path. Turutu is dainty and understated, gently presenting its berries on thin, branching stems. The slightest wobble can knock them off, so shelter is important. Too much sun can burn the leaf tips, so light shade under trees is perfect.

The colour of the berries is quite variable, though each is worthy of purple prose: iridescent indigo; a mellow china blue; powdery lavender; matte, greyish white; steely silver-purple; or a deep, regal violet.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information, contact Kate Caldwell.

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter