(Sophora sp) woody legume trees
found in subtropical and temperate regions of
North and South America, Asia, Australia and New
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
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.
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.
All parts of the kowhai, but particularly the
seeds, are poisonous to humans.
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