Things that make me go ‘ah’

We’ve been sticking to our neighbourhood walks most evenings, the route we’ve been treading regularly since last year’s first big lockdown. And just as the evenings become lighter with daylight saving, in comes the blossom and my walk takes a bit longer as I stop to admire this or that.

Blossom seems to be what I’m needing just now, helping lift my spirits. Hope you enjoy these images.

The first couple of times I tried to photograph this small Leucospermum tree, the sky was grey. Finally, I got a blue sky to offset the vivid orange flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Leucospermum, or pincushion plants, are native to South Africa. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A few steps further along the same street is this eye-catching crabapple on a property boundary. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Applause for the homeowners who have planted this weeping white blossom tree in the council berm. Give it a few more years and it will look magnificent. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The elderly kowhai street trees along one block have been putting on a good show this year – and generally where there’s kowhai, there’s tui. This young bird was singing its heart out. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The postscript to the photo above is that we talked about whether the seed-grown kowhai we’ve had for some years had finally come into flower this year. ‘No,’ said the Vege Grower. Only to be prove he needs to get to SpecSavers as the next day when I was in that corner of the garden there were the distinctive bunches of yellow flowers. Hurrah!

Tree planting

Six years ago I was invited to the annual volunteers’ birthday breakfast at Te Puna Quarry Park, marking the month the project began in 1998. That 10th birthday was commemorated by having the area’s two mayors – the late Graeme Weld and Stuart Crosby – plant a kowhai tree each. The third one was planted by Shirley Sparks, the driving force behind the project for many years.

This year, there was another kowhai tree planted by Shirley, now a life member of the Quarry Park Society. But there are still only three kowhai trees.


Shirley Sparks plants another kowhai. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The two planted by the mayors have thrived, but sadly Shirley’s first attempt failed to thrive, something the committee felt a bit guilty about … so she was asked to try again. And I was there again.

Our native plants: kowhai

another bitter morning
and then –
the first kowhai

– Cyril Childs, 1941-2012


Kowhai blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Despite its prosaic name – kowhai is simply the Maori word for yellow – a tree in flower means spring, doesn’t it? Oddly enough, the Bay of Plenty (where I live) is one of the few places in New Zealand where kowhai don’t occur naturally, thanks to the volcanic ash and pumice that covered the area from the Taupo “super-eruption” 27,000 years ago.

In a 2009 interview Robert McGowan (Pa Ropata), a rongoa Maori medicine expert, said this: “Anything with a wind-blown seed or a seed that will be dropped by birds comes back very quickly into a devastated landscape, but the seeds of a kowhai are generally carried back into a landscape by a flood and that will only happen after the rivers start to rebuild the landscape.

“Kowhai seeds can remain dormant for 100 years and need something to wake them up. The pod is very hard and needs to be cracked to get at the seed.” Read more about how to germinate kowhai seeds here.

In 1925 rugby great George Nepia had his career saved by the bark of the kowhai after injury threatened to end his playing days. Read all about the traditional treatment here.

The kowhai belongs to the Sophora family, Sophora being the Arabic word for a leguminous tree, which itself is part of the pea family (not suprising when you look at the leaves and flowers). It is said that when the kowhai came into flower, Maori knew it was time to plant their potatoes.

The Field Guide to New Zealand Native Trees by John Dawson and Rob Lucas (2012) lists seven separate types of kowhai, many of them hybridising with one another where their territories overlap. The trees aren’t seen in the bush (forest) but grow on open ground and some are semi-deciduous.

Dennis Hughes of Blue Mountain Nurseries in Southland is trying to create better kowhai for the garden, read about his work here. He has a vast selection of kowhai  available in the nursery catalogue (click on catalogues and then natives).

And why would we have a kowhai in the garden? As well as bright yellow flowers at what can still be a dull time of the year, there is also the bird life the nectar-filled flowers attract – tui, bellbirds and waxeyes.