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A Tropical Feel in the Deep South

This article was first published on 20 May 2011.



Sometimes when planning a garden in Dunedin it is nice to include something with a tropical feel. If you’re looking for a native plant for the job then give Entelea arborescens a try.

The soft, bright-green leaves of Entelea are large, they can be up to 50cm in length and almost as wide as they are long.  The crinkly white flowers are large too, up to 2.5cm across, followed by equally ornamental spiky capsules.

Although fast growing, Entelea can be short lived and will not grow much taller than 7m in cultivation.  Well drained, deep loamy soil is best but if you have light soil then mulch well. This tree does not like frost so in Dunedin is best suited to an established border in a sheltered spot.

The wood of Entelea is thought to be one of the lightest in the world, on a par with balsa wood and lighter than cork when dry.  This feature made it popular among Maori for making fishing floats and marker buoys.

  • common names include whau, New Zealand mulberry and corkwood
  • easily grown from seed which will germinate readily
  • natural distribution is from the Three Kings and Little and Great Barrier Islands down to the top of the South Island where it grows mainly in coastal areas
  • E. arborescens is endemic (occurs naturally only in New Zealand)
  • See Entelea arborescens growing in the northern tree and shrub border of the New Zealand Native Plant Collection in the upper Botanic Garden

Shirley Stuart is curator of the Native Plant Collection at Dunedin Botanic Garden.