Kumara in the history of New Zealand
The kumara has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand. Brought here by the early Maori settlers over one thousand years ago from its Pacific Island source, it was widely grown especially in the semi-tropical regions of the North Island. Archeological diggings at the Waipoua Forest near Kaipara have revealed kumara cultivation from very early Pre-european Maori times.
The Maori managed kumara growing with great horticultural skill, making use of the ideal growing climate and controlling kumara caterpillar with the use of tamed black-backed seagulls. Kumara caterpillar could devastate a crop almost overnight, hatching in their thousands. Pre-European Maori grew several different varieties of ‘bush’ kumara, but compared to the varieties we eat today, were very small in size, being no bigger than a person’s finger.
The kumara we eat today has evolved from a larger American variety which grows on a creeping vine. It was imported in the early 1850’s, and was quickly adopted by the Maori for its superior size and taste. Over time a dark red variety developed and named Owairaka Red.
In most other countries they are called sweet potatoes. New Zealand kumara are available in red, gold or orange varieties, each with a deliciously different colour and taste. The majority of kumara is grown in Northland. http://www.kumara.co.nz/about.shtml