And the kōwhai tree was a key medicinal source for them too: the bark in particular was used to treat injuries, and kōwhai ashes were also incorporated in ringworm treatments.
Sophora species are not just present in New Zealand: they also exist in parts of Australia, Asia, as well as North and South America.
They are found in the North and South Island alike, and are known to grow naturally in open forests and riverbanks.
Most of these are trees, except for two: the Sophora molloyi and Sophora prostrata which take the shape of wiry tangled shrubs with sparse foliage.
This includes riparian forests, coastal cliff faces and inland scrubs. Kōwhai are quite tough and enduring, and this enables them to tolerate various soil types.
That’s 82 feet for those who prefer imperial measures. Kōwhai heights tend to vary from specie to specie: some of the smallest trees, like ones found in the Northland Region, will usually grow to be around 10 metres tall (32.8 feet).
Māori used to plant kōwhai trees around old settlement sites and sacred places. It is believed that plantings in some places like Wellington were the direct result of Māori tribal invasion and disputes.
Prepping the seeds before planting might help speed up the process, but the number of years a kōwhai might take to flower varies from specie to specie.
All parts of the Sophora microphylla species are poisonous, but its yellow seeds are especially so. They contain a toxin called Cytisine which, if ingested, can lead to nausea, vomiting and an increased heart rate; in extreme cases, it might even lead to paralysis or heart failure.