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Why do we plant trees at Matariki?

We often hear that Matariki is associated with planting of trees, and new life. But where does this concept come from?

Ka puta Matariki ka rere Whānui.
Ko te tohu tēnā o te tau e!
Matariki reappears, Vega starts its flight. 
The new year begins!

One of the most significant occasions in the Maramataka (Maori lunar calendar), Matariki is a star cluster also known as the Seven Sisters, or the Pleiades. Some call it the "mother" Matariki and her six daughters. The appearance of Matariki’s seven stars in mid-winter skies marks the beginning of a new lunar year, a time of festivities and celebration following the harvest of crops.

The Māori New Year is also linked with planning or preparing the ground for the following year's crops. The appearance of the Matariki star cluster signals a time to start planning and preparing for the spring garden — during winter, while your garden is mostly dormant, which makes sense to the scientists too!

For tangata whenua, the Matariki stars indicated when to plant crops. “If the stars were clear and bright, it was a sign that a favourable and productive season lay ahead, and planting would begin in September. If the stars appeared hazy and closely bunched together, a cold winter was in store and planting was put off until October.” (Te Ara)

The Maramataka is aligned with the natural progression of seasons, moon (marama), and stars. It provides guidelines for planting based on observations made over hundreds of years, and these observations also line up with modern ecology. For example, the moon is known to have a strong influence over water, so also affects plants’ sap flows and energy. So, the moon cycles associated with Matariki show when the time to harvest is ended and the time to plant is here.

The ideology of planting and new life is a strong theme throughout Matariki celebrations: historically, festivities, dancing and singing celebrated the change of season and new beginnings. Centuries later, we can still celebrate new life and a new year through planting. 

As we begin Matariki festivities, hundreds of planting groups around the country are putting thousands of native trees in the ground to begin their journey of growth. Those of us with appropriate land can plant trees too — or visit our website to learn how you can support the work of planting groups to honour new life this Matariki.