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This one is a break worth taking, under the shade of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful flowering native trees, Puriri (Vitex lucens). North Islanders are familiar with this tree which formed an important part of the Maori medicine chest. The leaves were made into a decoction applied to sprains, backaches, and ulcers. The decoction was taken internally for sore throats and a rheumatic was also made from this tree. One chemical, Methyl ester of p-hydroxybenzoic acid occurs in the leaves, and is a patented germicide. Vitex agnus-castus, which the Romans and Greeks found medicinally beneficial is from the same genus as Puriri.

Puriri is a spreading tree which grows to five metres within ten years up to a maximum of 20m.  Grown in a forest environment where light doesn’t reach the trunk, they grow straight and tall and without branches until 8-10m of height. When grown out in the open Puriri classically have short thick trunks which ascend into hefty spreading branches which may appear as few as three metres from the ground. The foliage is a rich glossy dark green constituted of palmate (shaped like the palm of your hand) leaves made up of three to five leaflets with a prominent mid-rib and lateral ribs. Overall the tree has a magnificent umbrella-shaped crown providing dense to dappled shade.

Vitex lucens is almost constantly in flower with a more pronounced flush from June to October. The fuschia-pink snapdragon-like blooms appear in clusters of four to fifteen springing from leaf axils, and they carry bird-attracting nectar. Initially the young fruit is pale-green and pear-shaped, but matures into rich crimson berries of which there are almost always some on the tree. Fruit-eating birds love puriri fruit, especially kereru, and it is an important food source for them. In turn, kereru are an important seed dispersal mode for the tree. 

Each fruit contains a hard nut with four chambers, and inside each chamber is a single seed. In wet conditions the fruit and skin of the berry macerate and each chamber opens to release its seed.

Puriri occurs naturally from North Cape to the Taranki latitude with occasional specimens south of this point. It favours sheltered coastal sites and grows best on low-lying moist alluvial terrain. Puriri is hardy. When mature, it tolerates swampy ground and will sustain light frost. 

Vitex Lucens is one of New Zealand’s classic specimen trees and is ideal in gardens, school grounds, parks, and on farms, provided it has sufficient room to spread. Puriri also make stunning street trees but require moist fertile soils. 

  $120 each            $450 each

The genus Vitex comes from a family of flowering plants known as Lamiaceae which contains 230 genera and around 7,000 species. Puriri is the only New Zealand member of the genus. Vitex is derived from the Latin, Vieo, meaning to weave or tie up, while lucens means, shining, or showing through. Long lived puriri can reach over 1000 years old, but many of these are hollow at the base creating a cavity which was sometimes used by early Maori as a burial chamber for important people. Because of this Maori have built up sacred traditions around Puriri. Leaves are wound together as coronets or carried at tangi.

  • Along with Rata, Puriri is the heaviest of the New Zealand native timbers 
  • The wood is stable and very strong and will remain intact despite enduring damp and exposure for long periods
  • Seasoned wood is a rich dark red-brown and accepts fine finishing but the irregular interlocking grain makes it difficult to work 
  • Maori found Puriri made strong implements and structures, including canoe paddles and domestic woodware
  • Legend has it that buckshot ricocheted off Puriri palisades 
  • Maori made hinaki (eel traps) from Puriri because it was one of very few timbers that sank
  • Europeans used Puriri for decorative inlays, and furniture, but also for piling, house blocks, railway sleepers, culverts, machine beds, bridges and other construction work
  • Vitex lucens can be a target for Puriri moth but despite the sizeable holes left in the tree, timber strength is unaffected. Holes grow over and are often not detected until the timber is milled.
  • Puriri will grow easily from fresh seed though germination may take some time
  • Sow fresh seed into trays and germinate in a shade house 
  • Can be established from cuttings
For price and availability list
* All prices are exclusive of GST

102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

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