Ficinia spiralis


Ficinia: Named after Heinrich David Auguste Ficinus, 19th century German botanist
spiralis: From the Latin spira 'coil' or 'twist' and -alis 'resembling', resembling a twist or corkscrew, spiral-shaped

Common Name(s)

pingao, golden sand sedge, pikao

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 - Relict
2004 - Gradual Decline


2012 - PD, RR
2009 - CD, Inc, Sp


Ficinia spiralis (A.Rich.) Muasya et de Lange



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class



Isolepis spiralis A.Rich., Desmoschoenus spiralis (A.Rich.) Hook.f., Anthophyllum urvillei Steudel, Scirpus frondosus Boeck, Scirpus spiralis (A.Rich.) Druce


Endemic. New Zealand: North, South, Stewart and Chatham Islands.


Coastal sand dune systems. It favours sloping and more or less unstable surfaces, growing mostly on the front face of active dunes but also on the rear face and rear dunes, provided that there is wind-blown sand. It can also grow on the top of sand hills. It is effective at trapping sand.


Stout, yellow-green when fresh, golden when dry, shortly creeping plants with stiff culms and very harsh leaves. Rhizome lignaceous, 10–15 mm diameter, shortly creeping, covered by red-brown to brown, fibrous strands left from decaying leaf-sheaths. Culms numerous, 0.3–1.2 m tall, 2–4 mm diameter, erect, obtusely trigonous, very leafy at the base. Leaves numerous, ± = culms, 2–5 mm. wide, stiffly erect or weakly curved, coriaceous, linear, concavo-convex or ± channelled, margins and keel sharply denticulate, narrowed to a long, trigonous tip; sheaths submembranous, much broader than leaves, with numerous, red-brown veins. Inflorescence, paniculate 70–300 mm long, each panicle composed of c.12 confluent clusters of sessile spikelets, each cluster subtended by a rigid leaf-like bract adnate to the axis and broadening at base to an open sheath, lower bracts much exceeding inflorescence. Spikelets 4–5 mm. long, dark red-brown. Glumes coriaceous, rigid, broadly ovate, obtuse, distinctly nerved, finely mucronulate, the lower ones ± keeled. Nut 2.5–4.0 x 2.0–2.5 mm, broadly obovoid, concavo-convex, compressed, obtuse, dark brown, smooth and shining.

Similar Taxa

None. Easily recognised by the widely spreading rhizomatous growth habit, distinctive overall orange colouring of the plant, paniculate spiral seed heads, and by the possession of a gynophore (see taxonomic notes).


Spring and early summer

Flower Colours



Late summer

Propagation Technique

Can be grown from fresh seed and cuttings. Fresh seed germinates easily but plants resent root disturbance, and they should be grown in root trainers. Although it will tolerate most soils and moisture regimes, it obviously does best in coastal situations within active sand dunes.


Competition from marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), dune stabilisation and compaction, harvesting, trampling, vehicle traffic and browsing animals. Because this species is wind-pollinated, individuals of small, isolated populations may not receive pollen during flowering, and therefore there will be no seed production. Browsing and trampling by sheep and horses; browsing of seedlings by possums; seed destruction by rodents; fire and insensitive harvesting.

Chromosome No.

2n = 30

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Taxonomic Notes

Desmoschoenus was recently (Muasya & de Lange 2010) submerged into the mainly South African genus Ficinia on the basis of sound molecular and morphological reasons. Based on multiple  DNA markers Desmoschoenus was found to be firmly embedded within Ficinia, that, along with its possession of a gynophore (a small cup like structure found at the base of ovary/nut otherwise known only from Ficinia) were considered firm reasons for its merger. Furthermore Desmoschoenus closely resembles those Ficinia which the molecular study placed it with. Read more about this research:

Video story

Pingao - Watch the TVNZ Meet the Locals video.


Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (6 August 2006). Description adapted from Moore & Edgar (1970).

References and further reading

Moore, L.B.; Edgar, E. 1970: Flora of New Zealand. Wellington, Government Printer

Muasya, A.M.; de Lange, P.J. 2010: Ficinia spiralis (Cyperaceae) a new genus and combination for Desmoschoenus spiralis. New Zealand Journal of Botany 48: 31-39.

This page last updated on 13 May 2014