The native Pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis) ranges throughout New Zealand, its distinctive green and orange foliage adding a splash of colour to coastal dunes wherever it is locally abundant. Pingao is also culturally significant, and a range of traditional arts and crafts incorporate the attractive golden-yellow dried leaves of Pingao which are especially valued for weaving.
In recent decades, however, the spread of the introduced dune grasses Spinifex (Spinifex sericeus) and Marram (Ammophila arenaria) has posed a threat to Pingao, which grows more sparsely and slowly than these aggressive competitors. Spinifex and Marram have been the grasses of choice for many a dune restoration project throughout New Zealand, chosen for their ability to rapidly colonise bare sand surfaces. This popularity, however, has also promoted their rapid spread to other areas where they have often displaced local populations of Pingao. Pingao has also suffered from other disturbances such as trampling by people, vehicle traffic and browsing by introduced animals such as rabbits. The end result is that Pingao is generally in decline throughout its natural range.
In response to this, conservation groups and local authorities are now beginning to acknowledge these threats and take action. Organisations ranging from volunteer groups through to government departments are now encouraging the restoration of Pingaos habitat by clearing competing vegetation and protecting some areas from vehicle and foot traffic. While the odds are still stacked high against Pingao ever regaining its former abundance, these are positive steps that will ensure that Pingao will continue to add its colour to dunes around the country for generations to come.