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.