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.