Know the native trees in Tawa reserves with Gil Roper – Melicytus ramiflorus, māhoe, whitey wood


This is one of the most common sub-canopy trees in the Tawa native bush reserves.

Source of names:

Genus Melicytus. From Greek ‘meli’ = honey and ‘kytos’ = hollow container. It refers to the staminal nectaries of the flowers. (‘honey cave’). Species = ramiflorus meaning flowers are borne from branches. Māhoe. ‘Ma’ = shame, ‘hoe’ = paddle, meaning, don’t use the wood for paddles.

Whitey wood refers to the light-coloured wood.

mahoe tree Māhoe

Recognition features

  • produce white, brittle wood
  • dark green leaves with finely serrated edges
  • aromatic cream-coloured flowers grow out directly from the wood (termed ‘ramiflory’)
  • violet-coloured fruit are consumed by tūī, kererū and gecko lizards
  • distinctive leaf skeletons adorn the leaf litter below the trees.

Leaves infected by epiphytic alga

Commonly, the surfaces of māhoe leaves are infested by ‘Cephaleuros algal leaf spot’ which is an epiphytic alga. While the spots look unsightly, it is considered that this does minimal damage to the tree.

mahoe leaf fungus
Māhoe leaf algal leaf spot

Epicormic shoots in māhoe

Some native trees, such as māhoe, when they become stressed by drought, browsing, or damage caused by wind or fire, the tree sends out epicormic shoots from buds underneath the bark. This is especially evident in some of the māhoe trees near tracks in Redwood Bush.

Māhoe epicormic shoots mahoe
Māhoe epicormic shoots

Uses of māhoe by Māori and early Europeans

  • wood was used for the friction method in fire lighting, rubbing it with a piece of harder wood such as tōtara or kaikōmako
  • brittle timber used for firewood
  • liquid from boiled leaves was used for rheumatism, scabies and to help menstruation and diarrhoea
  • berries were mixed with kauri gum to create a pigment for tattoos
  • early Europeans burned māhoe wood to produce charcoal for gunpowder.

Article Source: Gil Roper February 2022 Newsletter

Published by Friends of Tawa Bush

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