Kowhai blooms part of spring’s delights

Sophora molloyi ‘Early Gold’ in the Dunedin Botanical Garden.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Sophora molloyi ‘Early Gold’ in the Dunedin Botanical Garden.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
One of spring’s many joys is the mass golden flowering of kowhai trees around our streets, parks and gardens.

With eight different species and considerable variation within each, kowhai trees around the city bud up, bloom and fade at slightly staggered times. This means we and the birds can delight in a succession of flowers for weeks on end.

In one small area in the botanic garden’s native plant collection, for example, the small-leaved kowhai (Sophora microphylla) has been flowering for a few weeks now and is almost done; coastal kowhai, (Sophora chathamica) is smothered in open blooms; and buds of Waitakere kowhai (Sophora fulvida) and large-leaved kowhai (Sophora tetraptera) are just starting to open.

The champion of long-flowering kowhai in the native collection is a great specimen of Sophora ‘Early Gold'. Planted in 1987, it has a characterful twisted trunk and a dense, spreading canopy of foliage that is kept regularly clipped by kereru, who can often be spotted feasting on the leaves. This specimen has been flowering nonstop since early April, providing winter nectar for tui and korimako.

Like the similar ‘Dragon’s Gold' cultivar, Sophora ‘Early Gold' is a selected form of the Cook Strait kowhai, Sophora molloyi. In the wild these plants are restricted to extremely dry and exposed coastal bluffs and rock outcrops, making them well suited for many difficult garden situations such as dry banks, coastal or windy areas. They also grow relatively quickly into dense, green blobs — great filler shrubs for a wildlife garden.

 - Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Kate Caldwell.

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