Kowhai: the colour yellow in te reo Māori. Kowhai is also the Maori name for the Sophora species native to New Zealand. This tree, Sophora microphylla, is at the height of bloom right now and is a special favourite of mine. Remains of a trunk twice the width of what exists, suggests this tree is over 200 years old. The idea of connecting with something, possibly living before European settlement is poignant for me, an immigrant without historic roots in this country. It is remarkable that this tree survived the construction of the river stopbank during the Depression years as it is right at the base of the bank. It has only occurred to me recently that maybe it was intentionally saved - protected as taonga (prized resource) by someone who valued it. It is after all very close - as the crow flies - to Kaiapoi Pa, a nationally important stone trading centre.The tree must be a remnant of groves that would have existed along the river flats. A few old scattered trees can be seen between Tulls Rd and the Ashley bridge on State Highway 1. What if these groves were the signal, close to home, that the trail of yellow was opening up through the mountains - safe passage after winter to the pounamu (jade) grounds of the West Coast? All of these trees were old enough to resist the depredations of introduced farm animals but will not reproduce on that farmland now. I have struck seed from my feature tree but most of the seed is infested - probably by lemon tree borer.
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