Pimelea villosa


Pimelea: from the Greek pimele, referring to the seeds
villosa: from Latin (villus) meaning shaggy or hairy.

Common Name(s)

sand daphne, autetaranga, toroheke, sand pimelea

Current Conservation Status

2012 - At Risk - Declining

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - At Risk - Declining
2004 - Gradual Decline


2012 - PD, RF
2009 - PD, RF


Pimelea villosa Sol. ex Sm.



Brief Description

Much-branched sprawling shrub with hairy branches (often mostly covered by sand) bearing pairs of pointed leaves that have long hairs on the underside, hairy white flowers and black, red, pink or white fruit inhabiting sandy areas south to about Christchurch and the Chatham Islands. Leaves 5-15mm long by 3-7mm wide.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


Gymnococca arenaria Fisch. et Mey., Pimelea arenaria A.Cunn., P. villosa subsp. arenaria (A.Cunn.) C.J.Burrows, Pimelea dasyantha Colenso


Endemic. North, South and Rekohu (Chatham Island). Abundant on Rekohu.


Confined to sand dunes and associated swales and flats - usually in free draining sites but sometimes bordering streams in places prone to sudden flooding. On Rekohu (Chatham Island) this species often extends outside these habitats onto the sandy peat soils that were once forest and are now mostly pasture, and in these places it sometimes extends into dune forest remnants. It can be very common in pasture there probaby because the soils are free draining and sandy and also because it is toxic and so cattle and sheep will not eat it. On the southern tablelands it is sometimes found within clears (on shallow peat soils) where it grows with other plants typical dune country such as Coprosma acerosa. Unusually for this species around Te Whanga it sometimes grows on limestone outcrops.


A medium-sized to large, much-branched, erect to decumbent, sometimes prostrate shrub; stems stout to slender, flexible to stiff, to 1.5 m long, usually shorter, sometimes developing adventitious roots if buried by sand. Young branchlets densely covered in short to long, white, or rarely yellowish, appressed hair. Internode length 0.8–10.0 mm; older stems sparsely hairy, or hairless, brown. Node buttresses short (0.25 mm), lunate, glabrous, or with short hairs, but masked by internode hair on young stems; not prominent on leafless stems. Leaves decussate, ascendant or spreading, then often deflexed, imbricate or distant, on short (0.2–0.8 mm) often red petioles. Lamina 5–15 mm long × 3–7 mm wide, broad-elliptic to broad-ovate, flat; obtuse, or acute, base cuneate. Upperside of leaf glaucous to medium green, usually glabrous, but young leaves sometimes sparsely hairy, above. Lower sides and margins are densely covered by appressed white to dull white or sometimes yellowish hair; midvein not prominent. Stomata on both leaf surfaces. Inflorescences terminal on branchlets, 3–7-flowered. In some individuals grouped in clusters of 2 or more. Receptacles very hairy. Involucral bracts 4, of similar size to, or smaller than, adjacent ordinary leaves (8–10 × 5–7 mm), broad-elliptic to broad-ovate, densely hairy below, usually glabrous above but sometimes with a few hairs on that side. Plants gynodioecious. Flowers white or sometimes cream, on short pedicels (0.5 mm); tube and calyx lobes very hairy outside, inside hairless or with a few hairs in the ovary portion, lobes open in ascendant or salverform fashion. Female tube 4–5.5 mm long, ovary portion 3–4.5 mm, calyx lobes 2.2 × 2.0 mm; hermaphrodite tube 5–7 mm, ovary portion 3.5–5 mm, calyx lobes 2.5–2.7 × 2–2.5 mm. Anther filaments short, inserted at mouth of tube; anther yellow. Ovary partly or completely hair-covered. Fruits ovoid, fleshy, dark purple-black, red, pink or white, opaque, 5.2 × 4.2 mm. The tube breaks off irregularly as the fruit ripens. Seeds 4 × 2.2 mm. Description based on Burrows (2009)

Similar Taxa

A very distinctive shrub, the erect, open-branching habit, small oblong to sub-orbicular close-set leaves, and restriction to coastal sand dunes and swales set it apart from all other Pimelea species. The treatment offered here includes plants with a lower, more spreading shrub habit and more widely spaced, longer and narrower spreading leaves (these forms are treated by de Lange et al. (2009) as Pimelea aff. arenaria (AK 216133; Southern New Zealand), and they were treated as subsp. arenaria by Burrows (2009), though circumscription of the subspecies in that paper is better regarded as pro parte because Burrow (2009) included elements of P. villosa s.s. within it (see comments on taxonomy below)


September - March

Flower Colours



October - April

Propagation Technique

Easy from semi-hardwood cuttings. Will germinate readily and swiftly when seed is fresh (Nan Pullman, pers. comm.).


Threatened throughout its range (except possibly Rekohu (Chatham Island) by competition from marram grass; trampling by cattle, sheep and horses; browsing of seedlings by possums; seed destruction by rodents; vehicle damage and fire. More worryingly it has been observed that fruiting plants are now rarely seen over large parts of its range despite apparently good sex ratios within populations. It is suspected that the low fruit set being observed is due to the decline of and perhaps loss from some areas of pollinators. Further study is needed to confirm this. Although treat in the broad sense here the southern variant (Pimelea aff. arenaria (AK 216133; Southern New Zealand)) is by far the less common and more threatened of the two forms.

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family



Burrows (2009) reinstated the earlier legitimate and effectively published name Pimelea villosa for the species long known as Pimelea arenaria A.Cunn. In the process he recognised a new subspecies - P. villosa subsp. arenaria (A.Cunn.) C.J.Burrows based on the type of P. arenaria collected from the Hokianga. This subspecies was meant to encompass the southern variant recognised by many other New Zealand botanists (a point unacknowledged by Burrows (2009)) and even named at species rank as P. dasyantha Colenso. NZPCN odoes not recognise subsp. arenaria because the type suite of that subspecies encompasses shade and sun forms of P. villosa. Shaded plants of P. villosa s.s. tend to lose their imbricating smaller leaves, and adopt a laxer growth habit with larger leaves (this also happens in cultivation) - so approaching the southern variant. However these shade plants of P. villosa still retain the taller growth habit typical of P. villosa s.s. and not of the southern variant. Further the situation on the Chathams is not as described by Burrows (2009) either - whereby he stated that both subspecies occur there, overlap and hybridise - that observation stems from confusion over shade and sun plants of P. villosa s.s.

It is important to appreciate that Burrows had not undertaken field work on those islands and based his decisions on often inadequately labelled herbarium specimens. It is the view of both P. J. de Lange & M. J. Thorsen (pers. comm.) who have spent considerable time on these islands that all plants there are P. villosa s.s. Lastly because Burrows (2009) included elements of P. villosa s.s. within his circumscription of P. villosa subsp. arenaria, and also used as type, material that is referrable to P. villosa s.s., subsp. arenaria is treated here as a synonym of P. villosa s.s. Further research into the natural variation of P. villosa throughout New Zealand, using molecular techniques is needed to adequately address the status of P. villosa s.s. and the southern variant. Finally contrary to Burrows (2009) the southern variant (his "subsp. arenaria") is not known to be sympatric with P. villosa s.s. (though it comes close at Kawhia). Currently this variant is still only known from Kawhia and the Hawke's Bay south.

Fact Sheet Citation

Please cite as:  de Lange, P.J. (Year at time of Access): Pimelea villosa Fact Sheet (content continuously updated). New Zealand Plant Conservation Network. http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=193 (Date website was queried)


Fact Sheet by P.J. de Lange (1 November 2009). Description based on: Burrows (2009).

References and further reading

Burrows, C.J. 2009: Genus Pimelea (Thymelaeaceae) in New Zealand 3. The taxonomic treatment of six endemic hairy-leaved species. New Zealand Journal of Botany 47: 325-354.

de Lange, P.J.; Norton, D.A.; Courtney, S.P.; Heenan, P.B.; Barkla, J.W.; Cameron, E.K.; Hitchmough, R.; Townsend, A.J. 2009: Threatened and uncommon plants New Zealand Journal of Botany 47: 61–96.

Merrett, M. 2005. The lowdown on Pimelea arenaria. Wellington Botanical Society Bulletin 49: 3-6 

This page last updated on 2 May 2017