Maria Rodgers

(Re)Planting our natural heritage in urban Aotearoa New Zealand

Maria Rodgers photo

In Aotearoa New Zealand, past and ongoing injustices have disconnected Māori from their land. Māori see themselves reflected in the landscape; natural heritage is part of their identity. Natural heritage and therefore aspects of Māori identity have mostly been erased from urban areas through colonisation, despite it being a treasure for the first peoples of Aotearoa. Honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi requires that taonga (treasures) are protected. Many plants growing in urban areas represent the colonial situation rather than celebrating Indigenous natural heritage, and many native plants that are present in urban environments are from other parts of Aotearoa and were not naturally occurring in the past where they now grow. Making pre-colonial natural heritage visible, alongside the well accepted practices that acknowledge built and predominantly colonial heritage, will potentially protect and celebrate the taonga of natural heritage.

Maria is a PhD student in landscape architecture and has taught for four years in the landscape architecture programme at Te Herenga Waka. Her love of plants brought her to study landscape architecture. She particularly enjoys teaching planting design and seeing students’ relationship with plants develop.

The threat of climate change has led to urgent calls for environmental action which will likely include increased urban vegetation. Maria’s research evaluates the potential additional benefits of this planting. The overarching research question for her thesis is: what are the benefits for both Māori and Pākehā of revealing, reinstating and celebrating our natural heritage in the urban realm, and of prioritising plants that were naturally occurring in the past in the places we inhabit?


Professor Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, Dr. Ocean Mercier and Associate Professor Maibritt Pedersen-Zari, AUT