Name: Kōwhai

Scientific name: Sophora microphylla

NZ Status: Endemic (found only in New Zealand)

Conservation Status (NZTCS): Not Threatened

Found: Kōwhai is found throughout New Zealand in a diverse range of habitats.

Did you know? The arrival of kōwhai flowers in late winter-early spring indicates that the time is suitable to plant kumara and that the kina is fat.   ​

Photo Credit: Allison Buchan

Kōwhai gets its name from the Māori word for yellow –its golden tubular flowers a popular choice for nectar feeding birds like tūī, kākā and korimako. 

In rongoā/Māori medicine, boiled kōwhai bark is used to treat everything from bruising and skin conditions to the bites of kekeno/seals. 

But herbalists, proceed with caution: kōwhai wood can be toxic for humans. Spoons carved from kōwhai wood have been known to contaminate food and cause poisonings. The seeds are the most toxic part of the kōwhai, yet properly prepared they can serve a valuable purpose. These hard, yellow nuggets, along with the flower petals are crushed to prepare a dye for the colouring of muka, the fibre used in raranga/weaving.      

Kōwhai often struggles to survive outside of protected areas, where its new growth is a tasty addition to the diets of rabbits and other browsing mammals. 

Look for them: If you’d like to see kōwhai in ZEALANDIA you can look for them along either side of Lake Road.  A mature, note-worthy specimen can also be found along the Swamp Track, just before it reaches the top dam.