T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Lepidium oleraceum, (Cooks scurvy grass)

Kingdom: Plantae
(Unranked): Angiosperms
(Unranked): Eudicots
(Unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Lepidium
Species: L. oleraceum
Binomial name: Lepidium oleraceum
Synonyms: Thlaspi oleraceum, Nasturtium oleraceum, Lepidium oleraceum var. acutidentatum, L. oleraceum var. frondosum L. oleraceum var. serrulatum
Common Names: Nau, Cooks scurvy grass, Ngau, Naunau, Heketara

Lepidium oleraceum is a nationally endangered much-branched, perennial, herb up to 1 x 1 m high. Once a widespread common coastal plant it is now rare. It is now mostly restricted to off-shore rock stacks and offshore islands. It is still found on Stewart Island, the Three Kings Islands, Kermadec Island group, the Snares Islands, the Chatham Islands, the Auckland Islands, the Antipodes Islands, Stewart Islands and the Bounty Islands group. It is usually found in soil enrich by guano near seabird roosts and nesting sites. The species is now mainly found on rock stacks, islets, and wind shorn headlands on rodent free offshore islands.
The small populations left are highly threatened, one of the reasons being reduced populations of seabirds which they are dependent on to provide highly fertile and disturbed soils associated with nesting grounds. Additionally the species is susceptible to browsing by livestock, rodents, snails, and insect herbivores.

Young leaves were once eaten raw or cooked. They have a hot cress-like taste and are a rich source of vitamin C. Cook used it as an antiscorbutic. Hence its common name ‘Cooks scurvy grass’. See text below.
During his voyages of exploration James Cook collected a number of plant species at various locations which were used to help ward off scurvy amongst his crew. While visiting Tolaga Bay in New Zealand on his first voyage, Cook noted in his journal on 27 October 1769: "...the other place I landed at was the north point of the Bay where I got as much Sellery and Scurvy grass as loaded the Boat". Historian John Cawte Beaglehole believed that "Scurvy grass" in this case referred to Lepidium oleraceum. Specimens of the plant were collected by botanists Johann and George Forster on Cook's second voyage.

For more details about this plant visit: http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.asp?ID=71

Lepidium oleraceum, (Cooks scurvy grass) Click to enlarge