Tree of the Month – December 2016

By Jo Halley

Kaikomako Pennantia corymbosa

Kaikomako means “food of the bellbird”, referring to this tree’s small black berries that ripen in autumn, which are much relished by bellbirds, tui and kereru.

This is one of my favourite small native trees. It starts out with a distinctive divaricating juvenile form, with an abundance of small, three-lobed leaves on a bouncy, hummocky twiggy bush. After a few years, new growth with larger, toothed leathery leaves appears out of the top, and gradually the tree assumes its rounded adult shape, up to 12m tall.

In late spring the kaikomako bear clusters of small, white, sweetly scented flowers that can almost cover the whole tree. Male and female flowers appear on separate trees.

Kaikomako are common on the West Coast, liking open situations, and bush fringes, as far up as 600m.

Maori used the hard kaikomako wood as part of their fire-lighting kit. A well-dried, sharp pointed stick was rubbed along a groove in a piece of softer mahoe or pate wood, until the dusty residue that formed caught alight.

This is a great tree to grow for attracting birds to your garden, easy to grow and not too large. Plant a few to be sure of getting a fruiting female tree.