Our Unique Fuchsias

Kotukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata)

By Cushla McGaughey

Kotukutuku is the world’s tallest fuchsia. It is a tree reaching at least 13 metres in height, with a trunk up to 30cm or more in diameter.

It is common in lowland and lower montane forests, growing at forest margins and along banks of stream. Easily propagated from seed or cuttings, the tree will not tolerate drought or strong wind.

The flowers can grow directly from the tree trunk. The buds are green, streaked with purple, but the flowers turn red after pollination. If the buds are red, then it’s an exotic fuchsia, not our endemic kotukutuku. Tui and bellbirds are the primary pollinators.

 Sought after fruit

The sweet, edible fruit or konini is much sought after, usually eaten by kereru and tui as soon as it starts to colour. Early settlers made jam from the fruit or stewed it in honey as a dessert, and home spinners produced a range of dyes from the bark or decayed wood.

The timber was prized for woodturning, but – fortunately for the tree’s survivial – was too gnarled for commercial exploitation. Even dry wood is impossible to burn, hence the nickname “bucket of water tree”.

Creeping Fuchsia (Fuchsia procumbens)

New Zealand also has the world’s smallest fuchsia, a strictly coastal species. Like Kotukutuku, the Creeping Fuchsia has flowers with unusual blue pollen. Even more unusual for a fuchsia, the flowers are held upright. They too develop edible red berries.

This endangered plant is now rare in the wild, through destruction of its natural habitat. The good news is that it survives in gardens, planted as ground cover, and it is a naturalised plant on Kapiti Island.