Mid-winter in the forest is a hungry time for nectar-feeding birds. They welcome the flowers of the kohekohe, which is flowering now. With its big, divided leaf and dangling clusters of waxy, white flowers, it looks too showy and exotic for our native forest. For the kohekohe is special, being the only member of the tropical mahogany family which is native to New Zealand.
Kohekohe flowers are unusual in that they sprout in bunches directly from the tree trunk or branches. This is thought to be an adaptation to tropical rainforests where bats and birds and even monkeys are climbing beneath the canopy and can feed and fertilise the scented, nectar-filled flowers. In New Zealand kohekohe flowers are favourites of tui, bellbird and kaka – and possums.
Being of tropical origin, kohekohe is frost-tender and only grows in lowland and coastal forests in the North Island and the top of the South Island. It is a beautiful tree and, like puriri, an important part of our lowland forests.