are small, woody legume
trees in the genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...
Sophora is a genus of about 45 species of small trees and shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family, Fabaceae. The species are native to southeast Europe, southern Asia, Australasia, various islands in the Pacific Ocean, western South America, the western United States, the Southern US...
native to New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...
. There are eight species, S. microphylla
being the most common. Kowhai trees grow throughout the country and are a common feature in New Zealand gardens. Outside of New Zealand, Kowhai tend to be restricted to mild temperate maritime climates. Species in this group include S. chathamica
, S. fulvida
, S. godleyi
, S. longicarinata
, S. microphylla
, S. molloyi
, S. prostrata
, and S. tetraptera
Despite having no official status as such, the blooms of the kowhai are widely regarded as being New Zealand's national flower.
Description and ecology
Most species of Kowhai grow to around 8 m high and have fairly smooth bark with small leaves. Sophora microphylla
has smaller leaves (5–7 mm long by 3–4 mm wide) and flowers (2.5-3.5 cm long) than S. tetraptera
which has leaves of 1–2 cm long and flowers that are 3 cm-5 cm long.
The very distinctive, almost segmented pods, which appear after flowering each contain six or more smooth, hard, yellow seeds. These seeds can be very numerous and the presence of many hundreds of these distinctively yellow seeds on the ground quickly identifies the presence of a nearby Kowhai tree. Many other Kowhai trees lose most of their leaves immediately after flowering in October or November but quickly produce new leaves. Flowering of Kowhai is staggered from July through to November, meaning each tree will get attention from birds. Tui are very attracted to kowhai and will fly long distances to get a sip of its nectar.
is one of the four genera of native legumes in New Zealand; the other three are Carmichaelia
, and Montigena
Kowhai can be grown from seed or tip cuttings in spring and autumn. The hard, dark or bright yellow seeds germinate best after chitting and being soaked in water for several hours. They can also benefit from a several minute submersion in boiling water to soften the hard shell and then being kept in the same water, taken off boil, for several hours to soak up the water. Young Kowhai are quite frost tender, so cuttings or seedlings should be planted in their second year when they are 30 cm or higher.
, sometimes called "Little Baby", is used as a Bonsai
is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ...
tree. It grows up to 2 metres high, has zigzaging stems, and sparse smallish leaves.
Māori medicinal use
In traditional times, Māori used the Kowhai tree as medicine. The bark was heated in a calabash
Lagenaria siceraria , bottle gourd, opo squash or long melon is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable, or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, the calabash is widely known as the bottle gourd...
with hot stones, and made into a poultice to treat wounds or rubbed on a sore back or made into an infusion to treat bruising or muscular pains. If someone was bitten by a seal, an infusion (wai kōwhai) was prepared from Kowhai and applied to the wounds and the patient was said to recover within days.