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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)


The following Maori folk-tale of the Golden Kowhai is, says James Cowan, surely “as pretty a tree-myth and as satisfying an explanation of the Kowhai's freakish flowering habit as any lover of fairy tales and any poetic soul could wish.”

The blossoming of the Kowhai, New Zealand's flower of spring, came rather later than usual this year, and the tui and the bellbird, those melodious honey-suckers that mimic each other's songs, must have wondered what delayed the opening of their favourite sweets feast.

The peculiarity of this loveliest of our small flowering trees is the fact that it produces its blossoms before the leaves. The most charming of forest pictures is the scene on the edge of the bush or along a river, such as the upper part of the Wanganui, when the pendulous Kowhai flowers cover every bough without a sign of foliage, and when the tuis are chattering joyously as they flutter from branch to branch, sometimes giving a kind of looping the loop exhibition in their excited exploration of the honey-laden blooms.

Long ago, in the back country of the Rotorua Lakes region, I heard a Maori explanation of the Kowhai's singular habit of flowering on bare and leafless branches.