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It’s often welcome, that break from an intense task. Here’s a splendid gift for your eye, a satisfying little brush with the Kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile). Scientists aboard Captain Cook’s first New Zealand voyage in 1768, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, gathered Kohekohe as one of their first botanical specimens from the Shakey Isles. That 240 year old sample is still held in the Te Papa collection. One of Auckland’s satellite town names, Pukekohe, is an abbreviation of Kohekohe. Puke Kohekohe refers to the Hill of the Kohekohe.

Kohekohe is a distinctive specimen tree with a spreading canopy. It grows fast to five metres by ten years, to a maximum of 15 metres in ideal conditions. In open locations Kohekohe tends to shorter trunks and broadly spread crowns, while those found in stands have substantially taller, thinner boles and slender crowns. 

Lush green shiny-surfaced, noticeably veined leaves keep Dysoxylum spectabile looking rich all year. Pale-green to white flowers cluster around a 40cm stalk which grows directly from the trunk and droops. From March to June sweet-scented male and female flowers occur on separate trees, with the male tree producing more panicles (branched flowering stalks) and more flowers on each panicle. Both genders are present in each flower but they are not true hermaphrodites because a female with anthers doesn’t actually produce pollen. Bellbirds, Hihi and Tui love Kohekohe flower nectar and flock for the sweet delicacy. Kereru and kokako come for the fruit.

Fruit ripens in April until August a year after Kohekohe flowers. The brown table tennis-ball sized fruit is thin-skinned and splits to disclose pairs of seeds held in bright orange fleshy casings. Fruiting is inconsistent with sometimes years between ‘good’ seasons. 

One of the most shade-tolerant species, Kohekohe is common and sometimes dominant in coastal and lowland forests up to 500 metres, from Nelson, north. It is a long-lived tree but frost tender. 

Dysoxylum spectabile was used by Maori to treat ailments and early Europeans were quick to follow suit.

                     $50 each        $95 each            $450
                                                            - Available 2020 -

Kohekohe has close-grained straight timber. Categorised as softwood, its sapwood is pale beige and the heartwood is fawn-coloured with a red cast. A handsome meandering grain is not uncommon but less usual, and adds considerable interest. Surprisingly strong despite its softwood classification, Kohekohe is easily worked and polishes beautifully. Its strength and light weight made this timber an ideal choice for Maori buildings. It was popular with cabinet-makers for its finished colouring. Seen as a potential option in the 1920s to Honduras Mahogany importation, its natural shrinkage propensities during seasoning went against it, and smaller logs carried too much sapwood while larger logs were often hollow. Today Kohekohe is occasionally used for crafted furniture and in the cabinetry of luxury yachts.

  • Maori used the leaves and bark of Dysoxylum spectabile in a decoction to relieve coughing, and it stopped the milk flow of lactating mothers when applied to their breasts. Breathing the vapour of boiling leaves was thought effective for colds and fevers, and the boiled liquid was taken for haemorrhages, as well as gargled for sore throats. The boiled leaves could be used as a poultice for boils. A bitter compound similar to quinine was obtained by decocting leaves and young bark, and pioneer bushmen used it to relieve stomach ache and also to make a beer-like brew. 
  • Commonly known as Kohekohe, New Zealand Mahogany, Native Cedar, or Kohi

  • Kohekohe growth on good sites should be fast. Most naturally occurring trees over a metre in diameter tend to be malformed and hollow, likely due to poor soils and competition from other forest trees.

  • When cultivated in the open, the straight trunk with its pale bark and wide spreading crown make an exceptionally handsome specimen tree

  • Grows readily in a range of soil qualities and moisture levels but is frost-tender, will not tolerate direct salt-spray, and its form will be affected by sustained wind

  • Propagation is easy from fresh seed, but seed does not keep well

  • Fallen seeds are often eaten by ants  

  • Can also be propagated from branch cuttings, and potentially from root cuttings

  • Young seedlings are susceptible to botrytus and phytophthora and should be treated with fungicides after germination

  • Subject to possum browsing, especially the flowers

For price and availability list
* All prices are exclusive of GST

102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

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