Titoki is common from Northland to Banks Peninsula in lowland and coastal areas on quite fertile, well-drained soil such as river flats. The two New Zealand endemics in this genus (the other being Alectryon excelsus subsp. grandis found only on the Three Kings Islands) are the southernmost with the other 30 odd species inhabiting tropical regions. They belong to the Sapindaceae family aka soapberry, a group that includes well known plants such as maple, horse chestnut and lychee and so named for its surfactant properties. Compounds found in many plant parts lower the surface tension between two liquids or a liquid and a solid so are used in foaming agents, emulsifiers and detergents. Maori bruised and steamed the seeds to release the oils which were used for many ailments from skin sores to rheumatism, sprains, ear and eye problems and as a carrier for scented oils like lemonwood.
Titoki is easy to propagate from seed but be sure to sow them immediately! Its viability drops rapidly after storage of even a few months. Though a hardy tree when established and tolerant of drought and frost, make sure it doesn’t dry out when young and protect from hard frosts. Powdery mildew can be a problem in humid, still conditions so ensure good airflow, see Pests and Diseases page for remedies.
Our Wellington locals in this genus are Sophora microphylla (weeping kowhai, small-leaved kowhai), a tree than can get up to 25mtrs tall and happy in a wide range of habitats, and Sophora molloyii (Cook Strait Kowhai, Molloy's Kowhai) a smaller dense tree up to about 3mtrs tall that now has a restricted range and is at risk in the wild. It grows in amazingly inhospitable environments clinging to scree slopes around the south coast of the North Island and on Stephens, Rangitoto, Chetwode, Titi, Arapawa, and Kapiti Islands.
above left: Puawananga (Clematis paniculata), the herald of spring and a true joy to see the glowing white clusters appearing in the trees after a long winter. If you're looking for a dramatic spring flowerer in your garden, give this a go, as long as its roots are cool and it can climb into the sun it'll be happy.
above right: far from the showy large blooms and graceful drape of C. paniculata, Clematis afoliata (leafless clematis) resembles a tangled ball of wire. Its only found in one spot in Wellington these days and is one that we are keen to increase in numbers.