Common name: Kowhai
Sophora microphylla is a small tree in the pea family native to New Zealand and Chile. It’s been growing in the Southern Hemisphere Garden since 2008, but hardly anybody notices it. Not because it isn’t worth looking at. You just can’t see it under most light conditions.
Kowhai has fine textured foliage - tiny leaflets with interlacing branches twisting and turning in every direction. Small, yellow, tubular flowers hang from the tree in May. The last two pictures show its attractive foliage and twisting form with the snow as a backdrop. But it never recovered from that cold spell in 2022. If you go looking for it and can’t find it, it’s not the light. It just isn’t there anymore. But Kowhai is not extinct, whereas the giant flightless moa bird is. The moa bird used forests of Kowhai for nest building and food.
James P, (the gardener for the Southern Hemisphere area) felt this small tree had a good 14 years and has ordered a Sophora microphylla cultivar. It could be a long time before the replacement cultivar arrives - even next year. Very few are grown in the small speciality nurseries, and they operate on their own time.
'Sophera' is an Arabic name for a pea-flowered tree. This is where the genus name Sophora came from. The specific epithet microphylla means 'small-leaved', referring to the leaflets this species has. The picture of the flowering Kowhai was taken in May, the leaf picture in summer, and tree and snow ones in winter.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones