The kumara has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand. Brought here by the early Maori settlers over one thousand years ago from Pacific Islands, they were widely grown especially in the semi-tropical regions of the North Island.
The Maori managed kumara growing with great horticultural skill, making use of the ideal growing climate and controlling kumara caterpillar with the use of tamed black-backed seagulls. Kumara caterpillar could devastate a crop almost overnight, hatching in their thousands. Pre-European Maori grew several different varieties of 'bush' kumara, but compared to the varieties we eat today they were very small in size, being no bigger than a finger.
The kumara we eat today has evolved from larger South American varieties that were brought out to New Zealand from the 1850’s on whaling ships from the Americas. The local Maori and early settlers saw the good characteristics of these varieties and quickly adopted them.