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Slip your focus sidewise and consider native trees from a historical perspective. For instance, Puka (Meryta sinclairii) is most uncommon in the wild but is a popular cultivated tree and is grown as far south as Banks Peninsula. William Colenso, a Cornish printer’s apprentice, arrived in New Zealand in 1834 and as a keen botanist, spotted, and first described a Puka he found growing behind a fence in Whangaruru, Whangarei. Maori had declared the tree tapu, saying they had brought it from the Poor Knights Islands. Colenso unsuccessfully tried repeatedly for years to secure samples of the fruit and flowers and at last showed the tree to Dr Andrew Sinclair, the Colonial Secretary. Eventually foliage samples were dispatched to Kew, but it wasn’t until William Mair found the tree that fruit and flowers were also sent to Kew at which point the tree was officially described, and named Botryodendrum sinclairii. Apparently, on discovering samples had been taken from the tree, Maori destroyed it.

Puka is a small, spreading glossy-leaved tree which grows quickly to four metres within ten years up to a maximum of eight metres. Growing naturally on off-shore northern islands (Three Kings, Hen & Chicks) this hardy upright specimen tolerates wind and salt as well as occasional drought but is frost-tender.

The robust rich green, veined and leathery, leaves are the largest entire leaf found on any New Zealand native (25-50cm long). The trunk grows straight and the base becomes wooden as it matures while the top remains soft. Once Puka flowers, the crown begins branching into a rounded form which can expand outwards to a lush eight metres.

Meryta Sinclairii is dioecious and inflorescences (entire flower head including stems, stalks, bracts and flowers) generally form at branch tips. Tiny green flowers appear from August to April. On female plants only, 1cm shiny green fruits composed of 3-6 seed holding cells follow. They ripen to black over the course of a year, attracting birds.

Puka will grow in a wide range of soil types and shade options but will thrive in a sunny location with some shade in deep moisture-holding soil. Young plants need initial protection in exposed coastal situations.

Puka is sometimes confused with Akapuka (Griselinia lucida) which looks similar with broad leaves.

                   
  $95 each                  $450 each
                                   available 2020

Puka (Meryta sinclairii) also rarely known as Pukanui, was named after Scottish-born Dr Andrew Sinclair (1796–1861), who trained as a surgeon and in 1841 arrived in New Zealand on the Favourite. On this particular journey he met James Ross’ Arctic Expedition which was then in NZ. He accompanied them on several domestic botanical expeditions and in following years became known as a prolific supplier of NZ flora and fauna samples to Kew. Amongst other achievements, he established the Auckland Museum in 1852. Dr Joseph Hooker’s Flora Novae-Zelandiae (1853) was dedicated to Andrew Sinclair (and David Lyall and William Colenso) and his name is borne by sixteen native plants.

  • Puka timber is white, and frangible
  • A variegated form of Puka (Moonlight) has creamy yellow leaves with green margins. This attractive variation tends to disease easily. 

  • Puka work well as container plants

  • Effortlessly propagated from seed 

  • Seeds deteriorate quickly and should be sown almost immediately after collection

  • Sow 20mm deep in a box, ideally under glass

  • Can be propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings

  • Seedlings often germinate on the ground below their parent but are subject to phytophthora and verticillium wilt 

  • Best planted a minimum of 150 metres from the beach in free-draining soil

  • Wind and salt hardy, but wet feet confer phytophthora, and humidity causes black spot. Treat with systemic fungicide.
  • Puka will grow in inhospitable environments but remain small

  • Puka respond well to pruning if they become too gangly
  • Best pruned in spring for optimal growth
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* All prices are exclusive of GST

102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana
don@takana.co.nz

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