Gardening / Meet the national flower of NZ

The stunning Kowhai… the national flower of NZ.

KOWHAI is the national flower of NZ and its deep-yellow flowers are stunning.

Cedric Bryant.

In Maori, kowhai means yellow and its botanical name is Sophora microphylla.  

I took the Kowhai photograph in the Dickson garden of a Horticultural Society member, where there are two plants both about eight metres tall, its mature height (they can be kept smaller).

There are eight species of Kowhai, all native to NZ, and local folklore says when they bloom in spring it’s time to plant sweet potato. Pigment for dye was also extracted from the flowers.

All parts of the plant are poisonous, however don’t be put off by this as many other plants are equally poisonous, such as Daphne.

There are many other Sophora growing in different parts of the world with the most common being Sophora japonica, also known as the Japanese pagoda tree and the Chinese scholar tree. It is one of the most famous of all Chinese trees and is planted extensively as on roadsides and in temple grounds.

Canberra botanist and parks and gardens director in the ’40s, Lindsay Pryor, in “Trees and Shrubs in Canberra”, suggests Sophora japonica is well suited to Canberra, doesn’t sucker from the roots and gives promise of being a relatively long-lived tree. There are specimens planted outside the Drill Hall at the ANU and as street trees in Hutchins Street, Yarralumla, and Myall Street, O’Connor.

MUSHROOM compost is made up of wheat straw, poultry litter, cotton seed hulls and peat, all of which is pasteurised to kill off harmful bacteria. Once the mushrooms have grown, the compost is discarded and sold for mulching home gardens. It can be used also as a soil conditioner and potting mix additive. However, there is one important proviso. Due to the lime in poultry manure plus added lime to neutralise the acidity in peat, it shouldn’t be used near native plants nor any acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.

HOPEFULLY we have seen the last of frosts, which means it is time to plant citrus trees.

Increasingly popular is the Kaffir lime for its use in Thai and other Asian cooking. Unfortunately, some I have seen for sale are not the true Kaffir lime. If the edges of the distinctive-shaped leaves are smooth and the new growth is light green, it is not the correct variety. The leaves of the true variety have serrated edges and its new growth is dark purple.

Kumquats… great for making marmalade and liqueur.

KUMQUATS (or cumquats) are great for making marmalade and liqueur. Like Kaffir limes, kumquats are good for growing in bright sunshine in containers not less than 40-50cm across the top.

Commercial potting mix is too porous, so mix 50/50 with ordinary garden soil, even soil with clay. Add some pelletised Seamungus fertiliser, a combination of seaweed and chook poo. Fertilise every couple of months with liquid Seamungus. Water every three to four days and mulch with pebbles for effect.

IT’S said the last three months in Canberra have been the driest on record. However, let’s look at some facts: according to the Bureau of Meteorology, we received 69.6 millimetres between July and September. For the same period, the following years were all far drier: 1896, 45.6mm; 1944, 36.7mm and 1994, a mere 13.6mm. While low in rainfall, the last three months have been relatively good gardening weather.


  • Try growing Kiwi berry (Actinidia arguta “Issai”). It’s self-pollinating and produces hairless, bite-size fruit. Expect the first harvest in two years.
  • It’s a good time to select Syringa or lilacs now in flower at garden centres.
  • Melbourne Cup Day is tomato-planting day, but I’d wait another two weeks.

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