The Bountiful Kohekohe

Cushla McGaughey says that the kohekohe has some interesting characteristics and many functions.

Tropical connections

With its large glossy leaves, kohekohe has a distinctly tropical appearance.

Most related species do in fact grow in the tropics. Cauliflory – flowers and fruit growing from trunk and bare branches – is also a feature of tropical trees.

It is thought that this lower position evolved to make access easier for pollinators and seed dispersers that feed below the canopy.

On Kapiti Island, kohekohe forest is the most important vegetation type. Surprisingly, for a tree with tropical connections, flowering occurs mainly in winter.

Thus the kohekohe provides food when other sources are in short supply.

Plenty of food for birds and insects

Flower petals surround tubes of fused stamens holding nectar on which tui, bellbirds and stitchbirds will feed. Kakariki eat the flowers, petals, stamens and all.

A sweet scent lures moths to the flowers at night. The moths are themselves food for nocturnal geckos. One way or another, though, pollination is achieved.The green, grape-like capsules from the previous year’s flowering will split to reveal sticky, scarlet flesh enclosing the seeds.

Here is food in plenty for kereru, kaka, kokako and tui. Some of that seed will survive for dispersal.

North Island Robin

But the larder has a bottom shelf too. Insects flourish in the dense layer of spent flowers and capsules beneath the trees.

This is yet another rich source of food.

Kiwi are well equipped to probe amongst litter. Robins use foot trembling to flush insects out from hiding.

And finally, the litter provides ideal conditions for germinating seed, to ensure the next generation of kohekohe.


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