Ōrākei moth plant competition 2024

Ready, Steady, Go! Moth plants on our students’ hit list


Schools and pre-schools in the Ōrākei Local Board area are geared up for the annual ‘Moth Plant Competition’, which begins on Thursday, March 28, and runs through to Monday, May 6, 2024.


This will be the competition’s fourth year. Organisers led by Nicky Elmore (from Sustainable Schools) hope for a record number of entries and a record “harvest” of pods and stems of the pest plant. The competition is funded by the Ōrākei Local Board, and the results will be announced at the Ōrākei Enviro-Forum on May 26th.


In the 2023 competition, teams removed 10,132 moth plant pods and vines and an estimated seven million seeds from the OLB area. These results were achieved by the 11 teams that submitted entries.  


At the launch of this year’s competition at Selwyn College on March 13, Nicky Elmore said the competition had been streamlined this year. She hoped this would result in more entries and a fairer distribution of prizes.


Nicky explained the reasons behind the changes: Early Childhood Centre teams won fewer prizes last year despite having collected more pods than some older prize-winning teams.  So this year, instead of having multiple categories, there are just two: Early Childhood Centres (ECC) and Open (Primary/Intermediate/Secondary combined). 


Ōrākei Local Board will award five cash prizes for the number of pods collected,  with a $350 prize for the top school. There are prizes for the thickest vine, best video, best photo, innovation (to get those pods!), best coffee sack, and most small vines by root. About vines, one vine will equal 1 pod. People are asked to pull the vine out at the root to stop the plant from growing or, with large vines, to cut them off near the ground.


New this year are two fabulous spot prizes of family trips to the beautiful pest-free sanctuary island ‘Tiritiri Matangi’ donated by the Eastern Bays Songbird Project. 


The “most smaller vines by root” category is less spectacular than the piles of big pods that will comprise most entries. However, it is potentially the most effective because it captures baby moth plants that have taken root under mature vines whose pods have ripened and “popped” their seeds. Being so small, these seedlings can be easily overlooked, but if left to grow, each seedling could produce hundreds of pods and thousands of seeds. Perhaps, being lower to the ground, eagle-eyed preschoolers may find this is a chance for them to excel!


Teams will assemble, count and photograph their pods or vines as they go, then bag them for disposal. Biodegradable coffee sacks are provided to collect pods, and disposal is available in a green waste bin at Remuera Golf Course.


It all promises excellent fun, primarily as the competition period extends over Easter and the school holidays.


But behind the competition is a serious problem: the moth plant thrives and spreads quickly in Auckland’s warm, windy climate. At this time of year, it is particularly threatening because, after flowering, its large, crinkly pear-shaped pods ripen and split open, releasing hundreds of seeds per pod. The seeds take root and grow, smothering native and exotic trees, hedges, gardens and flower beds. The milky sap the plant exudes can cause skin irritation, so moth plant hunters are advised to wear garden gloves,


That said, it’s excellent way for children to learn about a nasty pest plant, and how their efforts can make a valuable difference — and be rewarded.


To find out more contact: orakeimothplant@gmail.com


Photo caption: 1.Selwyn’s head of Year 11 science, Summer Staples, was at the launch with her daughters Indigo (11) and Eileen (5) to show an innovative tool they’ve made with help from a neighbour. They cut a pod-sized “window”  in the side of a 1.5-litre plastic drink bottle and taped it securely to a broom handle. This simple tool can reach a higher-up pod, manoeuvre it into the bottle and cut through the stem using the sharp edge of the window. 

2. Second prize winning team from the 2023 moth plant competition.