'Lancewood', alias horoeka, aka Pseudopanax this or that, is probably my favourite New Zealand shrub. It comes in two distinctly different forms. As a juvenile it presents as a spiky unwelcoming bunch of sword-like long sharp fronds radiating downwards off a stark wooden stake. Eventually, after a very long time (the progress in some examples is truly glacial) the lancewood becomes a fairly normal tree, with big fluffy juicy leaves and an umbrella-like area of foliage; perhaps its most unusual feature as an adult is that these leaves are stored way up at the top of a quite tall trunk.
As a child I wondered at the fact that these two quite different plants were really related. They are like the tadpole and the frog, or the caterpillar and the butterfly with their dramatic metamorphosis. But the life cycle of the lancewood happens so slowly you can't see it happen. You just have to live a long time and wait. But I have never managed to catch it changing from the staunch and defensive little set-faced urchin into the liberation of middle-age, with its wild free swagger as the wind catches the branches and shakes the leaves high up in the forest cover.
I like the youthful lancewood best, especially the "saw tooth" variety that looks as though the forest elves have hand-painted little rusty daubs on each serrated tooth of the blade, splashing blobs of other colours artfully and tracing a red ochre line roughly along the length of each spine.
I was always told that the dimorphism is all about evolution, and it's to do with the moa. The young plant is inedible, very uninviting to animals browsing near the ground. It's not until the plant has grown up out of the range of a tall flightless bird, that it produces the tasty fleshy leaves. Seems like a good theory.
And I can relate to the need to use a disguise to deter predators. Us women have to do that all the time, especially when we are young and delectable, or risk being told by the policemen of our town that an attack was all our fault because we flaunted ourselves (which includes the sin of becoming deliciously intoxicated).
Ah yes, there's something to be said for the advancing age, when we don't have to either hide or work hard to be attractive. Now that's freedom.