NZ FLAG FACT NUMBER 51
The silver fern (Cyathea dealbata), called ponga by Māori, is endemic to New Zealand. Māori used native flora to navigate their way home through the forests at night. They would break-off several fronds of the silver fern and leave them silver side up so that the moonlight would reflect off them. This night-time trail served as a homing beacon. Over the years, deer cullers and possum hunters have also used the fern for this purpose. Māori also have a whakatuakī (proverb) that is closely associated with the silver fern:
Mate atu he tetekura, Ara mai he tetekura.
As one chief dies, another rises to take their place.
When said in the context of the silver fern, the translation becomes:
As one frond withers and dies, another rises to take its place.
He tete, or frond, stands for a chief. Sir Tipene O’Regan of Ngāi Tahu once reminded author and academic Dr Danny Keenan (Ngāti Te Whiti Ahi Kā, Te Ātiawa) that ‘to Māori, the silver fern denotes strength, stubborn resistance, and enduring power, encapsulated in a natural form of native elegance. Māori have always honoured the fern, giving it a pride of place.
From New Zealand Flag Facts by historian Malcolm Mulholland. Read more at: