What's On at Zealandia


Kohekohe: one of our quirkiest trees
Alfie Kākā

Kohekohe: one of our quirkiest trees

Alfie: I’m inspired by Kerry Charles’ research on how planting for birds makes Wellingtonians happy, so I’m asking some of my favourite locals about which plants they’d recommend for Wellington gardens. First up, Joakim Liman, an award-winning Zealandia volunteer and the dedicated and enthusiastic manager of the volunteer
Te Motu Kairangi – Miramar Ecological Restoration group, which is restoring the Miramar peninsula to its former glory. Over to you Joakim:

Joakim: Hi Alfie. A lot can be said about kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile). This handsome tree was one of the most common species in Wellington. Today, however, not many remain due to settlement and pest animals. Kohekohe would normally make up a dominant part of our coastal forests, and it is one of the main species our restoration group is focusing on.

There are three reasons why I like this tree and its quirkiness. Its sweet-scented, orchid-like flowers grow straight from the trunk or large branches. This model of flowering is called cauliflory and it’s thought to be an adaptation for pollination and seed dispersal by animals that cannot fly well or hang out near the ground. Kohekohe flowers are an important and favored source of floral nectar for tūī, bellbird and hihi.

The flowers produce green golf-ball-sized fruit capsules the following year. A bright orange jelly covering the seed is then seen when the fruit capsule is ripe and breaks up. They make a great source of food for a range of birds, such as kererū and kōkako. However this important tree is, sadly, often overlooked when it comes to attracting birds to gardens.

Kohekohe, curiously, is a species in what is otherwise a tropical genus, Dysoxylum, so it works well in an ornamental garden, giving it a tropical and exotic feel, while still being part of a typical coastal forest of Wellington. It has large glossy green leaves and grows quickly and works well in a variety of situations and moisture levels. Kohekohe is easily grown in Wellington, reaching a maximum height of 15m.

Alfie: That is fabulous Joakim – I can just imagine bellbirds and tūī dipping their tongues into the sweet flowers; I’ve been known to have a nibble myself.


  • Sweet scented orchid-like flowers
  • Great winter nectar source
  • Tropical look
  • Suits Wellington’s coastal conditions
  • Fast growing
  • Up to 15m


  • Nature Space: Seasonal plant cycles
  • Great minds think alike and KC Burns also wrote a few useful plant notes over at the new halo.org.nz website just the other day: “For the past 8 years, I’ve been […] keeping track of the diets of native birds in Zealandia. Approximately twice a week since 2005, I’ve walked the same series of trails, keeping my eye out for birds as they go about their daily routines,” said Burns. Read more
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