Maire Tawhake is an upright specimen tree with pale bark and khaki coloured foliage which forms an attractive conical shape. It grows to three metres within ten years, and continues thereafter to a maximum of 15m. The word, syzygium comes from the Greek word syzygos meaning joined, and refers to the Maire Tawhake’s characteristically paired leaves carried on opposing sides of the stem. In swampy situations this tree often develops buttressing flanges on the lower portion of its trunk for stabilisation, and pneumatophores (short upright aerial roots) reaching up from its normal roots to facilitate better aeration.
Blooming profusely in creamy white, bisexual brushy flowers similar to rata from March to July, Syzygium maire is a sight to behold. Stumpy 3cm bright-red fleshy berries carrying a single seed and hanging in clusters ripen a year later between January and December. Birds, especially kereru and kokako, love them and they are also
suitable for human consumption, cooked or raw.
Commonly known as Swamp Maire, this handsome native of the Myrtle family is quite happy with wet feet, so does well in damp or riparian situations. It is frequently found on coastal and riparian sites, as well as in lowland coastal forests and in slightly higher country up to 400m. Maire Tawhake is endemic throughout the North Island with greatest density in the Waikato and is often found in the company of Nikau, Kohekohe, Pukatea, Turepo, and Ti Kouka. The rare occasional specimen is found in Nelson and Marlborough but these locations are at the extremity of its distribution.
Maire Tawhake is a superb specimen tree and easily cultivated though drought-intolerant. Very young trees are frost tender. It is under-utilised in planted landscapes yet this elegant tree, particularly when in bloom, is amongst the most beautiful of New Zealand’s native trees. Used in planted situations, whether shaded or sunny, not only enhances the location but contributes to Maire Tawhake’s continued survival as a species.