Forest 64 - Kowhai


2 tree species planted in Forest 64: Podocarpus totara and Sophora micropylla

Podocarpus totara    Totara

Podocarpus totara leaves Photo not from the Arboretum Podocarpus totara trees (2) Photo not from the Arboretum

Origin of the species name

Podocarpos is from Greek alluding to the fleshy foot stalk of the fruit; totara is the Maori name for the tree.

Family

Podocarpaceae

Date planted

March 2010

Lifespan

Trees of this species are long lived with one proven to be 460 years old and others thought to be up to 1800 years old.

Podocarpus totara seed cone. Photo not from the Arboretum

General description 

This is a medium to large evergreen conifer that can be spreading and have dense foliage. The bark peels off in papery flakes, with a purplish to golden brown hue. The sharp, dull-green, needle-like leaves are stiff and leathery. It produces cones with fleshy, berry-like, juicy scales that are bright red when mature. Height 20m Spread 18m.

Natural distribution and habitat

The species is native to both the North and South Islands of New Zealand where it grows in lowland, montane and lower subalpine forest at elevations of up to 600 m. The biggest totara grows on the North Island. It is 42.7 metres tall with a trunk diameter of 3.88 metres.

Conservation status

Although it is not classified as a threatened species, it has undergone considerable logging and forest clearance in the past 150 years. However, the ban on logging and the recovery that is occurring in remaining forests has greatly reduced the risk of threat.

Planting pattern

This species and the next one, Sophora microphylla, are planted in a square grid pattern with P. totara surrounding the S. microphylla plantings. The latterhave closer spacings and form the shape of a whale's tail, a reference to its importance in Maori culture.

Uses

As one of the largest trees in the forest, its timber was valued by the Maoris for their massive war canoes (waka) and for wood carving. It is still prized for its carving properties. The wood is hard, straight grained and very resistant to rot, and thus was in demand for bridge building, wharf construction, fence posts, floor pilings and railway sleepers. The bark was harvested to make bags. Ancient Maori custom demanded that a young totara seedling be planted whenever a totara tree was felled for timber. This was to appease Tane, the god of the forest, for removing one of his 'children'. It is also popular in cultivation for parks and larger gardens.

Further reading

Farjon, A (2010) A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Brill.

Sophora microphylla    Kowhai

Flowers of Sophora microphylla Photo not from the Arboretum by P. Bendle Sophora microphylla trees Photo not from the Arboretum, by P Bendle

Other common names

Weeping kowhai, small-leaved kowhai.

Origin of the species name

Sophora is from the Arabic word for this genus; microphylla from Greek meaning small leaflets.

Family

Fabaceae

Date planted

March 2010

Lifespan

Expected lifespan is over 30 years.

Leaves of Sophora_microphylla Kowhai Photo not from the Arboretum

General description

This is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree usually with a single trunk. The branches are both weeping and spreading. It has pinnate leaves with small dark green leaflets and an attractive display of pale to golden-yellow flowers. Height 15m Spread 8m.

Natural distribution and habitat  

The species is native to and found throughout the main islands of New Zealand. In far northern NZ it mainly occurs in riparian forest, but south of there it can be found in a diverse range of habitats ranging from coastal cliff faces and associated wetlands to inland scrub communities.

Conservation status

It is currently not classified as a threatened species, however, as an endemic species on a relatively small pair of islands, it is potentially threatened by the planting of foreign Sophora species and hybrids for revegetation and horticultural purposes. In many places it occurs as isolated stands within otherwise cleared alluvial forest, and in this situation the loss of trees over time is inevitable.

Planting pattern

This species and the previous one, Podocarpus totara, are planted in a square grid pattern with P. totara surrounding the S. microphylla plantings. S. microphylla have closer spacings and form the shape of a whale's tail, a reference to its importance in Maori culture.

Uses

The flower of the kowhai is often unofficially promoted as the national flower of New Zealand. A Maori legend says that a young man caused the tree to spring into flower to impress a young woman and it is said that the kowhai has flowered on bare and leafless branches ever since. The kowhai tree has been used for traditional medicine and the bark has been used to treat wounds, bruising or muscular pains.

Further reading

Audrey Eagle. (2006) Eagle's Complete Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand. Te Papa Press.