I’ve been paying particular attention to the most mature Kowhai tree I have in the garden. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a tree for all seasons.
Let’s start with late spring/summer last year when these seed pods formed, dried off but which still contain the yellow seeds for future trees.
Kowhai tree seeds
Just before this tree bursts into these beautiful flowers it loses many of its leaves.
The flowers appear from bare branches. However you will note that there are still some of last year’s leaves high up on the branches where no flowers have bloomed this season.
The Tuis have feasted on the flowers leaving a bedraggled look:
But from the tatters these brand new seed pods form:
Slender new seed pods begin to form
And if that is not enough new leaves are uncurling like fern koru on the bare branches.
Fern koru unfurl in spring
My Sophora Microphylla offers much to wonder about. Here is some more information about this remarkable native plant. I hope you enjoy the Maori legend and its magic and miracle borne of love.
“Kowhai is another of New Zealand ’s deciduous trees, actually termed hemideciduous. It loses its leaves just prior to flowering. In August and September the flowers arise from branches naked of leaf.
All New Zealanders who live close to nature welcome the kowhai flowers, as they signal the arrival of spring.
The flower of the kowhai is the national flower of New Zealand.
Like all legumes Kowhai have bacterial nodules on their roots that transfer gaseous nitrogen into soil soluble nitrates, an excellent fertiliser. Note the similarity of the seed pod to the other legumes peas and beans.
The seed is adapted for dispersal by floating which accounts for its abundance on stream sides, where floods carry the seeds throughout the catchments system. Native birds such as pigeon feed on the seed pods using the tough seeds as gizzard stones to masticate their food. Pigeons have been observed eating the leaf as well.
The seeds of kowhai have a dormancy mechanism, that being, their tough seed coat (testa) that is impervious to water unless nicked with a sharp knife or scalpel. Soak overnight and sow in a warm, sunny spot. Germination should proceed within 20 days. A plant 30-40 cm high can be attained one year after germination.
A Maori legend about the kowhai flowering
It is said that the Kowhai sprung from the shreds of the cloak of tohunga Ngatoro-I-rangi of the Te Arawa waka on its arrival to Aotearoa. The legend says that a young tohunga asks a girl to marry him while they sit under the bare branches of a Kowhai tree in the month of August. She replies that she will only marry him if he can perform some brilliant act. “I will show you what I can do. I will cause this tree to spring instantly into flower before your eyes.” He uses all his powers and the tree bursts into bloom, his final touch causing a ring of yellow blossoms to appear around the dark hair of the girl. Ever since, say Te Arawa, the Kowhai has flowered on bare and leafless branches.”