Iconic New Zealand native flora

Unique New Zealand native plants and trees: coprosma, kauri, kowhai, kowharawhara, lancewood, nikau, rata, rimu, totara.

Coprosma propinqua

New Zealand has 45 species of coprosma, from the shiny-leafed mirror plant (Coprosma repens) that stands firm even in exposed coastal situations to the divaricating sand dune coprosma (Coprosma acerosa), that forms a low spongy carpet of tangled stems.

Coprosma propinqua is another divaricating species that grows up to 4m tall, with tiny oval leaves not dissimilar to culinary rosemary. It bears translucent blue berries along the stem and is a versatile groundcover for hot, dry climates.

Kauri (Agathis australis)

The majestic kauri tree is the only member of this coniferous genus that is endemic to New Zealand. A kauri tree can grow to 60m tall with an impressive trunk girth of up to 16m, and live for as long as 2000 years.

New Zealand's largest kauri tree is found in the Waipoua forest, in Northland. The giant specimen is named Tāne Mahuta after the Māori god of the forest.

Waipoua contains three-quarters of the kauri trees left in New Zealand. Kauri was extensively milled in the 19th century and, of the original 1.2 million hectares of native kauri forest, only 80,000 hectares remain. All mature kauri trees, whether in the wild or on private land, are now protected by conservation legislation in New Zealand.

Kowhai (Sophora)

Kowhai grow in many parts of mainland New Zealand as well as off-shore islands including the Chatham Islands. In spring time, the kowhai is covered in golden yellow flowers that attract nectar-feeding birds, particularly tui and bellbirds.

There are three New Zealand kowhai species - two upright varieties grow to about 10m, and the third is a prostrate bushy shrub.

Kowharawhara (Astelia banksii)

There are 13 species of kowharawhara found only in New Zealand. The coastal species, Astelia banksii, grows up to 2m tall with silver-green, strappy leaves.

Kowharawhara grow on rocks and banks as an epiphyte, and produce greenish flowers followed by purple fruit, which were traditionally eaten by Māori .

Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida)

The New Zealand nikau is a statuesque palm with a slender trunk and deep green upright fronds that grows naturally in lowland forests throughout the North Island, and in northern parts of the South Island.

Māori traditionally used nikau fronds for weaving food baskets and thatching houses. The pith, or central core, of the tree is edible and the sap was valued for relieving labour pains during childbirth.

Northern rata (Metrosideros robusta)

Metrosideros robusta can grow up to 25m tall but is very slow-growing and takes at least a decade to reach peak flowering performance. Like the pohutukawa, the northern rata produces clusters of vivid red summer flowers.

There are 12 species of Metrosideros endemic to New Zealand and half are either climbers or epiphytes. The northern rata germinates as an epiphyte in the branches of a host tree, colonising the trunk as it sends roots to the ground.

Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa)

New Zealand's most iconic flowering tree, the native pohutukawa is a coastal species that lines beaches or clings to cliffs around the North Island.

The pohutukawa is distinguished by low spreading branches, gnarled knotty bark and red bottlebrush-like flowers. The underside of the leathery grey-green leaves are dusted with felty white tomentum.

Mature trees erupt in a crimson blaze each December, hence their common name: the New Zealand Christmas tree. The nectar-rich flowers attract native tui and bellbirds.

Toothed lancewood (Pseudopanax ferox)

This highly unusual native tree suffers a mid-life identity crisis, when it metamorphosises from the distinctive juvenile phase into a more sedate adult.

As a juvenile, the lancewood has a slender central stem punctuated with stiff, downward-facing leaves of bronze and chocolate-brown, giving it a dramatic prehistoric appearance.

The mature lancewood reaches 10m in the wild, and produces drooping clusters of pale purple flowers followed by bright red berries. The berries take up to 12 months to ripen.

Tōtara (Podocarpus totara)

Tōtara is one of New Zealand’s forest giants, and the largest species in its genus. It grows to 40m high, with a trunk diameter of 6m. It is common in lowland areas of the North and South islands on fertile, well-drained to drought-prone soils.