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(Sophora sp) woody legume trees found in subtropical and temperate regions of North and South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand

Of the about 50 species of Kowhai worldwide, 8 are native to New Zealand, where Sophora microphylla (shown) is the unofficial national flower. In New Zealand, kowhais are found in open forests and along streams and lakes, from sea level to 2,500 feet.

The kowhai is typically a small deciduous spreading tree reaching a height of up to 33 feet (S. microphylla) and 40 feet (S. tetraptera). The main trunk, which can be up to 2 feet in diameter, has grayish-brown, rough, furrowed bark. The leaves of microphylla are 3-6 inches long, with 20-40 pairs of small leaflets, each usually less than 1/2 inch long; tetraptera leaflets are much larger, ranging from 1/2 to 1-1/2 inch long, and grow in pairs of only 10-20.

Kowhai tree

Yellow flowers appear from August to October on bare branches, the leaves follow directly after flowering.  Flowers occur in racemes numbering 4-6, with each flower being up to 1-3/4 inches long; tetraptera flowers are up to 2-1/4 inches long. The kowhai is dioecious (having the male and female reproductive organs borne on separate individuals of the same species). The jointed, 4-winged pod contains 6 or more large yellow seeds that are highly sought by birds.

Kowhai flowers

All parts of the kowhai, but particularly the seeds, are poisonous to humans.

Scientific Classification

division Magnoliophyta
class Magnoliopsida
order Fabales
family Fabaceae

New Zealand

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Botany >> Flowering Plants >> Family Fabaceae (Legumes)

This page was last updated on October 07, 2017.