Gifting a Kōwhai Tree: It’s Symbolism & Characteristics

Holding unofficial status as the tree of New Zealand’s national flower, the NZ native Kōwhai tree has been used as an icon for generations. From postage stamps and coins, souvenirs to street names, the native Kōwhai tree has fascinated botanists from around the world, including Charles Darwin!  As a popular feature in many gardens and parks around the country, we thought it would be neat to share with you some of the common facts and the symbolism associated with this beautiful tree.

Let’s Tell You About the Humble NZ Kōwhai Tree

From the family Sophora, the Kōwhai tree is renowned for its bright yellow flowers in spring, whose nectar attracts our native birds the tui and wood pigeon. Having obtained its name because of the yellow flowers (Kōwhai being yellow in Te Reo), it has two unusual features for a native tree.

Firstly, some of the eight native species are deciduous, losing their leaves in winter. The flowers also appear before the leaves in spring. Secondly, it’s seed pods are very hardy and excellent at floating. Saltwater resistant, the Kōwhai tree has established itself in neighbouring Pacific islands simply by natural dispersal via sea. This was something that fascinated Charles Darwin, so he studied it in detail.

Long used by Māori for traditional medicinal properties, the Kōwhai tree is so prized that the cutting down of one is considered tapu. Infusions made from bark were used to treat dandruff, scabies, gonorrhoea and even pain from a seal bite. It was also used for broken bones, bruises, cuts and rashes by Māori tribes too. It’s important to know though, that this tree contains the toxin Cytisine, which can make people seriously ill or even die.

Kōwhai wood was used by both early settlers and Māori. Crafted into paddles and spears for hunters by Māori, and fence posts and tool handles by Europeans, it was renowned for its beautiful wood-turning capabilities and flexibility. The yellow flowers have and still are used to make natural dye, and the flowering of the tree was used as a signal by Māori to plant potatoes.

What is the Meaning Behind Gifting a Kōwhai Tree?

Te ura o te Kōwhai, or the glow of the Kōwhai, is a common saying amongst Māori. A strong part of the Māori culture and tradition, it features within songs, folk law and legends. As a Kōwhai-turanga ora or Tree of Life in the Waikato, it refers to authority and powers held by people to whom we look to for help and life.

While there’s nothing we could find historically as to the meaning of gifting a Kōwhai tree, we know it is a tree of incredible importance. We believe that when you give a Kōwhai tree to someone, you are showing you have trust in their abilities and judgement, and that you respect both them as a person and the choices they make. It’s also a lovely native tree gift which shows the recipient that miracles are possible for them, as like the Kōwhai who flowers before leaves appear!

To order your Kowhai Tree Gift head to our online store now, tree gifts anyone would be thrilled to receive!

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