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Something to Share with the Birds

This article was first published on 21 Jul 2014.

Kowhai in full bloom

Kowhai in full bloom

Winter is well underway, but what a cheering sight it is to see the birds still flitting from tree to tree. Cold-hardy Dunedinites strolling through the Botanic Garden at this time of year might come across an early-flowering kowhai laden with singing tui, or a lone kereru wobbling fatly on a bare tree branch.

I like to imagine what I would see from the birds’ point of view, and am heartened to reflect that our city is clothed with bird-friendly bush corridors and gardens. It’s wonderful that so many gardeners take the birds into consideration when choosing plant species for their backyards.

I have a real soft spot for some of our common local natives as garden plants. We perhaps take them for granted, as they are a familiar sight around the hills and roadsides of Dunedin – but why not make them a feature in your garden? They are guaranteed to grow well in our climate, and some of them can make stunning specimens if placed in the right spot.

Fuchsia excorticata, kōtukutuku, is one of our few deciduous natives. It has bright orange-brown peeling bark, and late winter flowers that nectar-feeders love. The berries are edible too!

Patē, Schefflera digitata, has soft, palmately compound leaves that give it a tropical look. It is fast-growing and provides masses of early winter fruit for birds.

Sophora molloyii ‘Dragon’s Gold’ is a great kowhai for a small garden as it attains a height of just 1.5-2m. It flowers profusely in winter.

Kate Caldwell is curator of the NZ native plant collection at Dunedin Botanic Garden.