Seeds of rare native plant carefully moved hundreds of kilometres in mission to help it survive

The country's only plant to rely fully on another for water and nutrients has been given a helping hand in its fight for survival.

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Bringing the rare dactylanthus to Wellington is the result of two years of careful planning. Source: 1 NEWS

Seeds from Pua o te Rēinga, or dactylanthus, have been taken from the rare plant growing in Pureora Forest Park in the central North Island and planted in two Wellington locations – the nature sanctuary Zealandia and Otari-Wilton's Bush.

"It's really a small area so all we need is an earthquake or something to split that area or disease or somebody not knowing and we will lose those species. So in terms of that, it is really rare and really valuable to us," Wellington City Council conservation adviser Karin van der Walt told 1 NEWS.

The project has also seen representatives of the six wider Wellington region iwi working together to transport a native species in a bid to increase its population for the first time.

Ngāti Maniapoto, Taranaki Whānui and Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi iwi member Gemma Wright was responsible for safely transporting the seeds between the two locations.

"It's so spiritual. It's uniting all the iwi of the Wellington area... My request to Tāne (forest god) and to Otari as well, take care of them... That's all we as the local iwi ask - nurture these seeds so that they flourish," she said.

The parasitic plant is hard to spot on the forest floor and is in serious decline, with pests like possums and historic land clearing decimating populations.

"There are lots and lots of populations where the adult tubers are breaking off and dying and decaying and there's very little evidence of young tubers or tubers recently attached with adolescent growth... there are very, very tubers which are actually producing female flowers," Nga Manu Nature Reserve trustee David Mudge said.

Mudge said it's important the species has mixed aged plants existing because female flowers are found on younger plants and male flowers are found in older populations.

Dactylanthus attach to a host tree at soil level or just under the ground surface with a placenta-like attachment, and could have multiple attachments or be attached to a couple of trees.

The host tree's root flares when this happens, which helps the dactylanthus.

This flared root is seen as a treasure to some collectors, but it's illegal to take this from public conservation land and when it is removed, it kills the attached dactylanthus.

The Department of Conservation said in a statement while it's not aware of any dactylanthus thefts from the wild in the last year, the number of flared roots being sold has increased in recent years.

There have been eight known sales in the last year, compared to one in 2012-2013, and none in 2013-2014.

The plant's nectar is an important food source for all sorts of animals and insects, but its key pollinator – the ancient short-tailed bat, or pekapeka – is also threatened.

Mudge has photographed short-tailed bats along with pest species, seven bird species and more than 70 different insect species visiting plants in Pureora Forest Park.

"The activity 'round there is just unbelievable… They would be busier than the human equivalent of the most popular fast food outlet in town," he said.

Mudge has overseen the growth of the most southern dactylanthus in the North Island at the Waikanae reserve, which was grown from seed also transported from Pureora.

He said the Zealandia and Wellington City Council staff overseeing the latest relocation to Wellington have a challenging, long-term journey ahead with no sign of the plant expected above ground for five years.

"It will always be challenging because dactylanthus seed do not readily germinate. Dactylanthus seeds are subject to long periods of dormancy and it's not known as to what would break that dormancy.

"They're not a seed that germinates well so it's a numbers game in lots of ways. You have to plant a lot of seed to get a few plants."

But Zelandia has some perfect habitat, director Danielle Shanahan said in a statement.

"We've got some beautiful, quite damp slopes but also we've got this incredible fence around the sanctuary at Zealandia that excludes the predators that can do so much damage to these species," she said.

Van der Walt, the Wellington Council conservation adviser, has been leading research into how the plant germinates.

"Germination efforts have been unsuccessful to date, but this has highlighted the importance of planting seed into the wild," she said in a statement.

The species is believed to have existed in the Wellington region historically before more than 95 per cent of native forest was cleared in the area.