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One of our most widely known native trees is the lovely Kowhai, famous for its spectacular bright yellow display when in full bloom. Kowhai belongs to the New Zealand genera, Sophora, part of the flowering family, Papilionaceae. This family is part of the plant order Leguminales (legumes). The Papilionaceae family is widespread throughout the world’s temperate regions, and includes approximately four hundred genera and more than six thousand species. Five genera are represented in New Zealand. The Sophora genera possesses exceptionally hard-shelled seeds which resist moisture until exposure has been sustained for a long time. The longer the shell remains dry, the more resistant to water, and the harder it becomes. That confers the advantage of remaining viable for a long time providing the coat doesn’t sustain damage.

Take a quick look at five of our Sophora species.

Kowhai Chathamica (Sophora chathamica) has an elegant upright form. Its lush mid-green foliage comes from the species’ densely-packed small leaves. It attains four metres height within ten years, growing to a maximum 20m. S.chathamica is hardy and does well in coastal or riparian situations. It is found mainly from Wellington, north to upper Waikato, the eastern coasts of Auckland, the eastern Hauraki Gulf, and Chatham Islands. Chathamica’s bright golden flowers blossom before other Sophora species, providing early feed for native birds.

 $130 each         $275 each         $480 each 
                                                                   (available Dec 2021)

Kowhai Fulvida (Sophora fulvida) has a lyrical spreading form. Large bright yellow drooping blossoms appear in late spring. Achieving a height of four metres within ten years, S.fulvida grows to a maximum of eight metres. This beautiful native’s foliage is tightly-leafed. It flourishes in coastal and riparian environments though its natural environs are restricted to Raglan, and from Waitakere north to Whangarei.

$130 each (available Dec 2021)

Kowhai Longicarinata (Sophora LongicarinataThe smaller species S.longicarinata grows to six metres with trunk diameter of up to 20cm. It has a distinctively graceful form with slender branches and fine, delicate foliage. The 10-20cm long leaves each carry 20-40 pairs of tiny widely spaced leaflets. S.longicarinata flowers in its sixth or seventh year, but sometimes as early as three years from germination. This species is in full bloom from September to October. It is found in northwest and eastern Nelson, and also in southwestern parts of Marlborough, generally on marble and limestone outcrops. Its’ dainty size is perfect for smaller suburban gardens. It tolerates frost, drought, wind, and coastal conditions and grows well on most soils, though dislikes wet feet.

$275 each         $480 each

Kowhai Microphylla (Sophora Microphylla) is the main South Island species of Kowhai. Exhibiting a graceful, almost weeping form, S.microphylla’s spreading shape carries smaller fern-like foliage. It grows to four metres within ten years, to a maximum height of eight metres. A hardy species, it thrives in coastal and riparian environments, and is found New Zealand-wide. Bright yellow flowers are followed by seed pods from spring, when native birds arrive to partake of the nectar feast. This species often exhibits a particularly divaricated juvenile form.

 $130 each         $275 each         $480 each 
                                                                   (available Dec 2021)

Kowhai Tetrapera (Sophora Tetraptera) has a graceful spreading form with larger, widely-spaced leaves. It grows to four metres by ten years, to a maximum height of twelve metres. Enjoying coastal and riparian environments, this North Island species produces abundant brilliant yellow flowers followed by seed pods from August to November. A favourite of Tui and other nectar-eating birds.

 $120 each         $480 each 
                                   (available Dec 2021)

The name Papilionaceae comes from Latin, papilio, meaning butterfly. It refers to butterfly-like flowers. Kowhai flowers have five petals including a large upright top petal at the back, known as the standard. Two side petals are known as wings and two front ones, usually joined, form the keel.

  • Forty-five species of Sophora exist worldwide, eight of which are endemic to New Zealand
  • Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected seed and took it to London where it was planted in 1772
  • Kowhai heartwood is darkish brown with yellowish sapwood
  • Kowhai timber is well-appreciated for turning since it is hard, dense, and durable
  • Maori call the colour yellow, kowhai
  • Kowhai flowers were used as a yellow dye by Maori
  • When the kowhai blooms, Maori plant kumara
  • Kowhai bark was used by Maori as a poultice for wounds or rubbed on a sore back
  • Infusions made from bark taken from the sunny side of the tree were used to treat bruising, muscular pain, scabies, gonorrhoea, ringworm and other conditions
  • Tui, bellbird, Kaka and Kereru especially love Kowhai, eating leaves, flowers, and nectar
  • Maori used it for fencing, in whare construction, to make implements, weapons and even large fish hooks
  • Kowhai can be grown in spring and autumn from seed, or from branch-tip cuttings 
  • Germination may be aided by soaking seeds in boiling water, leaving them in the cooling water for several hours
  • Young kowhai are frost tender so should not be planted out until they are at least 30cm
For price and availability list
* All prices are exclusive of GST

102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

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