Kowhai ngutu kaka

Kowhai ngutu kaka, kaka beak, Clianthus puniceusSpotted in Saturday’s DomPost, the stunning kowhai ngutu kaka, a.k.a kaka beak or Clianthus puniceus. The article was a little questionable (kaka beak has been nearly extinct in the wild since the 1940s, so there’s hardly any point trying to blame cows or grapes). But it’s nice to see the incredible scarlet flowers get a showing.

It is true however, that the wild population is down to one known plant, on an island in the Kaipara Harbour (which, btw, has no cows or grapes on it). The Maori did their best to move it around the country centuries ago, cultivating it in areas where they lived. Not only was it visually arresting, but the scent was used in body oils. The nectar would have attracted tui, and as a legume it would have contributed to the fertility of the soil.

If it weren’t for its incredible looks, the kowhai ngutu kaka would have died out a long time ago. Luckily, gardener’s have kept this species alive  internationally. Like most pretty things, kowhai ngutu kaka is a bit sensitive – weeds, insects, snails, drought, browsing and wind all do damage – and needs the loving hand of a gardener to help it along. The plant is a beautiful reminder of just how important gardeners can be.

Beautiful image courtesy of, and copyright to David Wall Photography.
More stunning photos of kaka beak at Arkive.


5 Responses to “Kowhai ngutu kaka”

  1. 1 Bob
    November 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    ONE plant left??? surely not….if thats the case Im putting my name forward to help grow them in my back yard….maybe if enough people take an interest we can save the blinkin things? can anyone send me some seeds?

  2. November 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    That’s one left in the wild… but I fully recommend growing them in your garden – they’re lovely. If enough people do that then maybe they’ll become garden escapees too, much like those pretty peas that are flowering all over the place right now. (That statement probably isn’t going to make me popular in certain circles).

  3. 3 Justin
    April 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    where can i get some seeds I will plant them everywhere in Wellington

  4. April 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Hi Justin,

    Love your enthusiasm! The plants don’t grow naturally in the Wellington region, which isn’t to say they wouldn’t grow here. They are found in the top half of the North Island, down to about Wairoa. But that causes a problem with trying to save the plants in the manner you are suggesting. Because it’s wild species we are talking about it’s best to gather seeds for replanting from the local area. There are a few varieites that are available from garden centres but I know there are concerns about genetic pollution ie plants that have been hybridised mix with the wild ones potentially affecting the characteristics, hardiness and disease resistance.

    If you head up to the East Cape or Northland on holiday check in with the local DOC office and let them know you’d like to scatter some seed on your travels around the region :)

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