Perhaps the commonest tree in New Zealand, kāmahi (Weinmannia racemosa) is abundant in lowland, upland and subalpine forests and regenerating shrubland, from the central North Island southwards to Stewart Island. It often begins life as an epiphyte (perching plant) on the trunks of wheki tree ferns (Dicksonia squarrosa). It eventually grows to 25 metres tall, usually with multiple trunks. Adult leaves are single, about 7 centimetres long, and dark green with toothed margins. Juvenile leaves consist of three leaflets, often reddish in colour.
Kāmahi produces spikes of nectar-rich white flowers each summer and dry brown fruit capsules in autumn. Its seeds are tiny and wind-dispersed. Possums eat the leaves and flowers, leading to the death of extensive areas of kāmahi.
Māori made a dark red dye from the bark, and used it to colour flax mats and cloaks. It also acted as a preservative for fishing lines and other items. European settlers used the bark for tanning leather. Kāmahi is an important tree for beekeepers. Its abundant nectar produces a rich golden honey, much of it from forests on the South Island’s West Coast. In the past, the timber has been used for fence posts and house piles, but it is not very durable.
Tōwai (Weinmannia silvicola), a northern relative of kāmahi, is found in forests around Auckland and Northland. It grows up to 15 metres high. Unlike kāmahi, it has compound adult leaves, consisting of adjacent pairs of leaflets with a terminal leaflet.
Along with kāmahi, broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) is one of the commonest trees in upland forests, and also occurs as an understorey tree in lowland forests. Broadleaf grows to 15 metres tall, and has thick, glossy, oval yellow-green leaves. It bears clusters of tiny green flowers in summer and small blue-black berries in winter. Broadleaf is browsed heavily by deer and goats.
Broadleaf is known by various Māori names, including pāpāumu in the North Island and kāpuka in the southern South Island. Its hard, durable wood was sometimes used for fence posts.
Puka, shining broadleaf
Puka or shining broadleaf (Griselinia lucida) looks like broadleaf, but has larger, shiny green leaves with uneven leaf bases that make them look asymmetrical. Puka often begins life as an epiphyte on large forest trees such as hīnau or rimu. Mature specimens have grooved roots, which grow down to the ground.
Free-standing plants grow up to 10 metres tall and develop wide, spreading crowns. Puka is found throughout the North Island in lowland and coastal forest, and in coastal locations in the South Island.
Puka is also the common name of another, unrelated, tree – the large-leaved Meryta sinclairii.
Quintinia or tāwheowheo (Quintinia serrata) is an extremely variable plant. Some scientists consider it to be three separate species, calling two of its forms Quintinia acutifolia and Q. elliptica. Tāwheowheo occurs in two distinct regions of New Zealand: it grows in lowland and mountain forests in the northern half of North Island, is absent from the southern North Island, then reappears in the west of the South Island as far south as Fox Glacier.
Tāwheowheo grows to about 12 metres in height and has mottled, narrow leaves with wavy edges. It produces 5–10-centimetre spikes of tiny cream flowers in spring, and dry brown seed capsules in mid-summer.