New Zealand’s unique isolation has allowed the country to develop a wide variety of native plants and flowers. Here are some of the most distinctive.
The kowhai is the unofficial national flower of New Zealand. It appears on local artwork, folk tales, and New Zealand postage stamps and coins. It has a short blooming season so be sure to catch it while you can.
The bright yellow bloom of kowhai, New Zealand’s national flower, is a striking feature in the landscape. It’s a common sight alongside streams and on forest edges in both the North and South Islands, but is particularly associated with riparian forests.
This is because the species are generally fairly generalists in their habitat requirements, thriving beside rivers and streams, on forest margins, and in open mountain tussock land and lowland areas. The leaves are also notable in having crowded and overlapping leaflets, unlike other New Zealand native plants that tend to have more elongated leaflets.
The kowhai is frost hardy and moderately wind and drought tolerant. It grows well on a variety of soil types, but prefers sunny conditions. Its distinctive seed pods, which appear after flowering and resemble segments of a banana (although the seeds are actually black in Sophora prostrata), make it very easy to identify on the ground. The pods contain abundant, hard-coated seeds that need to be abraded before germination can take place.
Pohutukawa are one of New Zealand’s iconic summer flowers. They bloom in bright red throughout the summer months and are often seen on Christmas cards and stories. They are also popular among bees for making delicious honey.
‘Vibrance’ is a fast-growing, compact cultivar with bright scarlet flowers and orange foliage. Its erect growth habit makes it a good choice for coastal gardens and adding to mixed plantings. It can also be grown as a specimen or trimmed into a hedge. It performs well in poor soils, dry periods and coastal conditions, and can tolerate frost once established.
Unlike many of our native species, pohutukawa have not developed protective leaf scales to withstand winter snow or frost – instead they cover their leaves with a fine coating of pale hairs, known as tomentum. This helps regulate humidity near the stomata, where air, carbon dioxide and oxygen are taken in for photosynthesis and respiration. The tomentum also prevents leaf burn from salt spray and windburn.
Mount Cook Lily
This beautiful flower, known for its large fragrant cherry pink blooms, is a stand-out in the perennial garden. A carefree plant that returns year after year. This lily will grow in full sun or partial shade and thrives in moist to gravelly soil that drains quickly.
Endemic to the South Island and Stewart Island. Found in sub-alpine to alpine herbfields and along creek sides. This flower has evolved a clever mechanism that aids survival in the harsh alpine environment. As it grows among rocks that often heat up during the day, its stomates (pores that let water in and out of leaves) have been adjusted to have stomates on both surfaces of the leaf. Automatic controls close the lower stomates when they are hot and open the upper ones to prevent the leaves from losing too much water.
It is also one of the few native flowers in New Zealand that produces pure white flowers. The other native flower with similar colour is hectorella caespitosa, which is found only in the high country.
Veronica is hardy in most zones and provides a beautiful splash of blue, pink or violet to any garden. It features tall flower spikes that attract bees and butterflies, and is a good choice for a rock garden or as a ground cover. Veronica is also used in traditional medicine, and many of its uses are believed to have antimicrobial properties.
Several studies have demonstrated that extracts of several Veronica species exhibit cytotoxic and/or anticancer activities in vitro against cancer cells. However, little is known about their in vivo bioactivity or the molecular mechanisms of these effects.
In a recent study, the methanolic and aqueous-acetone extracts of three Veronica species (V. teucrium, V. jacquinii, and V. urticifola) were analyzed for their ability to protect against CCl4-induced liver injury in rats. These extracts were found to increase glutathione content and reduce TBARS levels in the liver. They also displayed antiangiogenic activity in a Matrigel assay. These results suggest that Veronica could be a promising source of new hepatoprotective compounds.