The kowhai is perhaps one of New Zealand’s most well-known trees. It is a member of the Sophora genus (pronounced SOFFor-uh) which is name that comes from an old Arabic name for a tree with a pea like flower. There are in fact eight distinct species all of which are endemic to New Zealand. Each occur naturally in specific habitats and geographical locations but many cultivated and wild varieties are found throughout the country in parks and private gardens. Visit any New Zealand school and you can almost guarantee to find kowhai trees growing within the grounds. The different species vary a lot in size and form. The ‘common kowhai’ (Sophora microphylla) (The most widespread of the New Zealand species) and found planted at Moturoa School, is a small leaved plant that passes through a distinctly tangled juvenile phase before forming a small tree of up to 10 metres. The ‘prostrate kowhai’ (Sophora prostrata) retains its divaricating form through maturity and only forms a shrub of up to 2 metres high. The prostrate kowhai, which can also be found in the school gardens also, has much smaller flowers that are of a darker shade of amber.
The Maori name koromiko is generally used for members of the Hebe genus which includes over 80 species adapted to a range of habitats while countless hybrids and cultivars are popular garden plants. A range of natural wild species occur in Taranaki in alpine, lowland and coastal locations.
We have been propagating two coastal Hebe species for some time now. The Hebe speciosa plants in our school gardens came from two plants grown from cuttings originally sourced from North Taranaki (Mokau) while the Hebe elliptica plants came from cuttings collected from South Taranaki (Manaia). We have propagated around 850 Hebe speciosa and Hebe Elliptica plants at Moturoa School. The plants have been used for the TRC which have been used in a habitat restoration programme at the Rapanui Petrel colony. We have grown considerably more Hebe elliptica plants which have been mainly used by NPDC in a range of city reserves and gardens including at Paritutu‐Centennial Park.
We were very fortunate with the weather at our second planting event this year; this time at Maitahi Scientific Reserve near Okato. The children worked enthusiastically and carefully planting out over 50 koheriki (Scandia rosifolia) in various locations at the reserve. Koheriki has a current conservation status of ‘Threatened- Nationally Critical’ so these plants all grown by Moturoa School children are particularly valuable. We were also able to see the healthy koheriki at the reserve that we planted last year. The children can be very proud of their ongoing contribution to the conservation of this special Taranaki coastal plant. Many thanks go to Wayne (Kaitiaki Whenua) and Taipuni (Toa Taiao) and DOC staff, Ellen and Matt, for their help preparing the planting site, and providing wonderful assistance on the day. It was also great that Wayne was able to tell us about the special cultural connections and history of the reserve and surrounding area. Special thanks also go to Sharon, Catherine and Leah for helping us out with transport and for also providing great support on the day.
The nīkau palm is probably one of the most distinctive, fascinating, and easily recognized plants in the New Zealand bush; and is in fact the most southerly occurring palm in the world. The biggest of the nīkau in our school gardens were planted by Moturoa School children on Arbor Day 2002 and flowered for the first time in 2015. The Ratapihipihi Scenic Reserve on Cowling Road in New Plymouth is well worth a visit in order to appreciate the unique beauty of the nīkau in their natural setting.