seed collecting almanac

Porokaiwhiri Pigeonwood / Hedycarya arborea

In October, almost a year after the flowers on female trees have been pollinated, the clusters of drupes on the porokaiwhiri begin to turn orange. This is the sign that we need to get out and collect the seed.

If it is going to be sown soon and not stored, then green seeds might be just as profitable as the bright orange, ripe ones are. I have often found that seeds from green fruits germinate more quickly than those of ripe fruit.

If on the other hand you are collecting for a seed bank where the seed will be stored in long term cold storage, it is better to wait until the fruit ripens and the seed develops dormancy so that it stores well.


Porokaiwhiri seems to be less well known than it deserves. I know that it is not known as a timber tree and it doesn’t grow tall enough to reach up into the canopy of a forest so it doesn’t feature in the classification of forest. Despite this, porokaiwhiri is a really important part of a restored forest. All of the native bush in this area is regenerating after clearance for farms and timber milling some time in the past.

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Well established bush has a lot of porokaiwhiri in the understorey. Younger, less established has more mahoe and other quick growing shrubs and small trees. So porokaiwhiri may be slower to establish but more persistent in established forest. This is a trait we are keen to exploit. Once we can get a few established the prolific seeding of porokaiwhiri will mean that the forest floor is carpeted with seedlings, the understorey is on the way to recovery and year-round food supply for native birds is so much more secure.

lancewood / horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius)

Collecting the seeds of our native trees is the best way that I have found to get to know those trees. I have been collecting seeds and propagating native plants for the past few decades. It has been a fascinating pastime and I have learned so much. Not just about the individual native trees, shrubs and other plants but how they fit together to make a forest or wetland. I plan to share those experiences so that others can apply the lessons I have learned and we will all be the richer for it.

The fruit of lancewood ripen late winter but don’t really change colour much

There is no opening day of seed collection season. Any tree which produces seed when there is little else around has a monopoly on the birds for dispersing their seeds. Last month I began with lancewood / horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius) just because in late winter it is one of the few native trees with ripe fruit. This has been a fantastic year for fruit on lancewood. Last year I visited the same place and couldn’t tell which were male and which were female trees. There was no fruit on any of them. This year, trees were full of fruit and the native kereru pigeons were full as well, or at least making an honest attempt to be.

The really distinctive foliage of lancewood juveniles growing on a ridge

I found plenty of these unusual looking trees along the bush edge at the top of a farm on the lower slopes of Mount Pirongia. I often come across lancewood on dry ridges with shallow soil but also remarkably in wetlands as well. So, I guess lancewood really needs plenty of sunlight and isn’t too fussy about how rich the soil is. Lancewood grows across the whole country and to quite high altitudes so must be quite resistant to frost.

At about ten years the juveniles begin to change form to this more common small tree shape