Sophora tetraotera



Kōwhai is a smaller-sized native tree that grows up to 10 metres tall. It has smooth bark with green, angled twigs. The leaves are bright green and fern-like, with several leaflets attached to the central stem. The Kōwhai is renowned for its stunning colourful yellow flowers blooming in late winter and early spring. 


Kōwhai can be found throughout New Zealand in open forests, hillsides, and near waterways. 

Cultural Importance

Kōwhai is highly valued in Māori culture and is seen as a symbol of strength and courage. The tree's yellow flowers are also used in traditional Māori medicine for treating a range of ailments, including colds and skin infections.

Ecological Role

Kōwhai is an important nectar source for many native bird species, including tui, bellbird, and kereru. The tree's roots help stabilise riverbanks, reducing erosion and improving water quality.

Associated Birds

Tūī: Tūī are medium-sized honeyeaters known for their iridescent plumage and melodious songs. They feed on the nectar of Kōwhai flowers, using their specialised tongues to extract the sweet liquid.

Silvereye: Silvereyes, also known as Piwaiwaka, are small birds with a distinctive white eye ring. They may be seen foraging on Kōwhai trees, consuming insects and nectar.

Kākāriki: Colourful Kākāriki visit Kōwhai trees for their nectar. They also forage for insects and seeds in the tree's foliage.

Bellbird: Bellbirds, or Korimako, are medium-sized songbirds known for their melodious and bell-like calls. They are attracted to the nectar-rich flowers of Kōwhai trees and also eat insects and fruits.

Rifleman: Rifleman are among New Zealand's smallest bird species. They may forage for insects among the branches and leaves of Kōwhai trees.

Stitchbird: Stitchbirds, or Hihi, are medium-sized birds with striking plumage. They may visit Kōwhai trees for nectar and also consume the surrounding insects and fruits.

Tomtit: Tomtits are small birds with distinctive markings. They forage on Kōwhai trees' trunks and branches for insects and spiders.

Kingfisher: Kingfishers are small birds with vibrant blue and orange plumage. They are often seen perching on Kōwhai trees.

Conservation status

Kōwhai is not currently considered a threatened species.

Interesting Facts

  • There are eight species of Kōwhai in New Zealand, including the common yellow Kōwhai (Sophora microphylla) and the rare and endangered white Kōwhai (Sophora chathamica).
  • The nectar from Kōwhai flowers is so sweet that it can sometimes ferment, creating a natural alcoholic drink from which birds can become intoxicated!
  • Kōwhai wood is hard and durable and has been used in traditional Māori carvings, tool making, and firewood.

Conservation Tips

To help conserve Kōwhai, you can plant Kōwhai trees in your garden or on public land. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides near Kōwhai trees, as these can harm pollinators such as bees and butterflies that rely on the tree's nectar.