Clear Mountain Garden Treasures

Clear Mountain Garden TreasuresCulture and Germination - Kaka beak

Kaka beak

Family Fabaceae
Name Clianthus puniceus
Common Names Kaka beak, Red kowhai, Kowhai ngutukaka

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This is a quick growing shrub is endemic to New Zealand. It grows to 1-2m in 2-3 years. The flowers look like large red pea blossoms, and is especially attractive to nectar feeding birds. Plants flower from their second year and usually put on a spectacular display in late Winter / early Spring.

The journals of both Cook and Surville mentioned cultivation of this plant by the Maori for the flowers. Seed pods are said to be edible, though I haven't tried them myself.

Kaka beak is now very rare in the wild, being restricted to only several pockets in the North Island. It is listed as "Nationally Critical".


Depth: ¼ cm
When: Spring, Summer, Autumn.
Where: In containers for transplanting later.
Germination rate is approximately 60%.
Kaka beak seeds retain viability even if stored for several years. I have germinated seed stored for 6 years!

Growing from Seed

The secret to successful germination is to know and understand the seed coat. This is a thick water impermeable skin that covers the whole seed. The skin protects the seed allows it to remain viable for many years and only germinate when conditions are right. For water to get in, this seed coat must be broken.

First, soak your seeds in boiling water for one minute. Drain and soak in cold water until the seeds have cooled down. We only want to soften the seed coat, not cook the seed. Alternatively, hold the seed using a pair of needle nose pliers and nick the seed coat with a sharp knife. It is best to nick the flat side of the kidney shaped seed.

Fold one kitchen towel twice, place the seeds between the folds and lay the towel flat on a saucer. Wet the towel, but not so much that it is submerged in water.

After 24 hours the seeds should have doubled in size. Take them out of the paper towel and sow into containers with moist seed raising mix at a depth of not more than ½ cm. Repeat the hot water / nick treatment for seeds that have not doubled in size and place back in the kitchen towel for a further 24 hours.

Place a sheet of glass over the container to keep the moisture up. Do not cover the seeds as some light is required for germination, but keep out of direct Sunlight. Keep moist, but not soaking wet. Like a moist sponge - moist to the touch but not dripping.

Be patient. Kaka beak seeds take some time to germinate. Protect from slugs and snails. One slug will happily wipe out all your seedlings. Prick the plants out when they have 3-4 leaves and plant in a 5cm tube. Seedlings are initially quite slow growing and it may take a couple of months before you are able to prick them out.

I prefer to fill the bottom half of the container with potting mix that contains some 3 month slow release fertilizer (eg Osmocote). This way, the seeds will germinate in seed raising mix, but the seedling will send its roots down into the potting mix to extract nutrients necessary for its growth. If you don't do this, you will need to feed the seedlings.

If you sow the seeds in early Spring, the seedlings should be ready by Autumn. If sown in Autumn, the seedlings will be ready in the following Autumn.

Growing from seedling

As your seedling grows, protect from slugs and snails. One snail will easily chew up a seedling plant! Progressively pot on to larger containers as required. After 9 months to a year, the seedlings are ready to go into the ground. The best time to plant is Autumn - because the winter rains help the plant establish itself.

Kaka beaks prefer well drained soils as naturally they grow on steep slopes. A position in full Sun is best. When young, it needs protection from strong winds. Feed in the Spring with a slow release fertilizer. Water if the Summer has been very dry. Established plants are drought resistant and is tolerant of coastal conditions.

If planted in the Autumn, it should flower the Winter after.







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