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Break time! Shift sideways momentarily into a different world where plants mean everything; from planetary lungs, to beauty, from food to shade, from warmth to cooling, from clothing the planet to clothing us. Look for a moment at the handsome Karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus). It was food, shade, medicine, firewood, decorative, a tree with bright orange fruit that attracted and brought game directly within range of the hunter’s spear.

Karaka is a handsome hardy evergreen which grows to six metres within ten years up to a maximum of twelve metres. Its attractive glossy dark green foliage billows into a lush rounded crown made up of thick coriaceous leaves. C.laevigatus has a stout trunk, often with coppiced side shoots and substantial spreading branches, both of which exhibit many obvious lenticels (breathing pores). 

Often dioecious, Karaka flowers at the tips of branchlets between August and November, with later blooms occurring at the southern extremes of the trees’ distribution. The 4-5mm diameter greenish-cream blooms are less than showy, but as the dark green fruit begins to ripen from January to April, the show is definitely on. The large date-like drupes turn a spectacular bright orange, and the birds, particularly kereru and tui swoop to partake of the bounty, since little other fruit is yet ripe. Birds are an important seed dispersal mechanism.

Maori played a significant hand in Karaka distribution since it was a food source for them and they planted it almost everywhere they lived.  Corynocarpus laevigatus is thought to have natural distribution from the Kermadec Islands, over the upper North Island coasts and occasionally inland, but it is also found from Westland north. It favours coastal situations as well as lowland forest, though always below 600m. 

Karaka is an especially beautiful specimen or street tree, but also makes striking hedging. It tolerates salt-laden wind, and poor, dry or sandy soils but is frost-tender when young. 

                        
       $65 each         $120 each        $390 each            POA

The name Corynocarpus has its origin in Greek: from koryne meaning club, and carpus, meaning, fruit. Laevigatus is Latin and means smooth and shiny. The fruit of the Karaka is a drupe and is usually produced in wild proliferation so that seeds litter the ground beneath the producing trees. The pulpy flesh of the date-shaped fruit was eaten by pre-European Maori but mainly by the children, while the real bounty for Maori came from the kernel. The kernel is poisonous, but Maori had found a way to detoxify the kernels and store them for up to three years against potential starvation when food was in short supply. Part of the detoxifying process included baking or steaming the kernels after soaking them for long periods in running water to remove the fleshy outer pulp. The kernels were then dried in the sun, and cooked again before eating, or ground for use as flour. 

  • Kernel compounds are poisonous to grass-grubs, dogs, and humans, but appear not to affect cows or pigs
  • Karaka timber lacks strength and rots easily so its main use was as firewood but burning it resulted in unpleasant-smelling smoke
  • Karaka fruits prodigiously and much of it falls to the ground beneath the parent tree where seedlings sprout in abundance
  • Karaka is a beautiful patio shrub for planters but the fruit drop is significant and the sheer quantity can result in a powerful fruity smell
  • These drawbacks are far outweighed by the striking form and hardiness of C.laevigatus
  • It is an excellent specimen tree and works well in a landscape plantings  with other native trees
  • Ideal as shelter on coastal sites
  • Propagation from fresh seed is simple, but seed does not keep well
  • Germination from seed is normally at around six weeks
  • Seedlings transplanted from beneath parent trees normally do well
  • Difficult to establish from cuttings (semi-hardwood)
  • Needs lots of water to establish and is frost tender until established
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* All prices are exclusive of GST

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

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