Tag Archives: New Zealand native trees

Of Cabbages……?

No, not a post about Cabbages, nor a post about what the Walrus said “of cabbages and kings”, but a post about our Cabbage Trees. Ti Kouka in Maori, Cordyline Australis in Latin, a tree so common in New Zealand that it is easily taken for granted and overlooked.

We have at least two of these trees in our garden now and as I have sat sniffling and snuffling over the past four days I have noticed flower heads emerging from our trees.

I learnt from Ruth here that Cabbage Tree flowers have a beautiful scent and on that calm afternoon on Thursday I could just smell a delicate perfume when I was out near the larger of the two trees.
Keruru, New Zealand’s native wood pigeon love the flowers and seeds of these trees so I am pleased to extend our bird resort facilities further with the sight of an abundant flowering about to happen.

I was further surprised to peer over the supermarket car park wall and spot this stunning sight. It is rare to look down into the head of a cabbage tree as they stand very tall, very quickly but here was a gem to cheer me on.
There is quite a line-up of cabbage trees below this wall and they offered me various photos of flower heads emerging and flowers blooming.

Unfortunately any scent was being blown away in the spring winds. Like many of our native trees this flowering season is looking to be a boomer.


A tree for all seasons

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.”
Source: http://www.bushmansfriend.co.nz/sophora-kowhai-xidc17785.html

After the feasting

On Wednesday I posted a photo of the beautiful kowhai tree flowers in my garden. They were just waiting for the feasting to begin and suddenly it did. Tuis have visited the tree regularly all week, supping on the nectar. The Tuis are delirious with joy over this; their very favourite food.

Tuis are larger and heavier than blackbirds but swing through and around the slender branches on Kowhai trees with acrobatic ease as they harvest the bounty using their nicely curved beaks.

Today the majority of flowers look like this and the grass is gradually becoming littered with spent pieces of flower.

I am fortunate that across a fence on the reserve there is another Kowhai tree which is now providing another sumptuous feast for the happy, well fed Tuis.

As well as the air whirring at times as the Tuis swoop in or across the garden to feed, they also fill the air with their wonderful unique songs. It is a special time of the year right now.

Technically it is road

When we looked to purchase this home over 20 years ago, our lawyer alerted us to the fact that on one boundary there was strip of city council reserve land.

The city council maintained the reserve and someone had planted a selection of native trees on it. Contract changes some 10 years ago saw this maintenance cease and the grass grew to knee high length despite my repeated calls to the council. Their argument was that it was our problem.

Luckily a neighbour knew an official in the council and rang this chap on our behalf. This resulted in a couple of managers coming to view the reserve to determine who owned it and who was responsible for it.

To our surprise one of the managers was the head of the Roading department and he quickly put things to right by announcing that it is technically “road” and the council’s responsibility.

When the road had been marked out on the original plans it was to be a cul-de-sac and there was to be a bus turning area which had quickly become the reserve once the road was extended further up the hill.

Whoever planted the native trees chose two Golden Totara, a Kowhai, a Kauri, a Karaka, some Taupatas and a Kahikatea. They were all planted with a lot of space between them.

Several Kauri have failed despite our care and concern but this one is looking happier.

The Golden Totara need to be trimmed to maintain visibility on the intersection.

The Kowhai is looking aged and gnarly but survives and flowers well.


The Karaka has fruited heavily this year but lacks any vigour and height and the Kahitakea is thriving. It is gaining height (it is now taller than our two storey house) it is a lovely shape and now has an epiphyte clinging to it as it would in the bush.


Epiphyte on Kahikatea tree

The Taupatas are huge and need trimming at times. The tougher the conditions the better they like it. And they seed prolifically.

I wonder who decided way back in the 1970s that planting giant native trees on a section of “road” reserve in an urban area was a wise thing? I fear for the stately, beautiful Kahikatea as it can attain great height.

Likewise the Kauri, although they grow very slowly and struggle in our clay soils. Kauri like wet feet and being surrounded by other trees as they grow.

For now I really enjoy the little patch of native specimens on our boundary but I do worry about the future as they grow ever taller.
I hope something sustainable will be the plan for the future.