Dracophyllum arboreum


Dracophyllum: dragon leaf, from its likeness to the dragon tree of the Canary Islands
arboreum: tree-like

Common Name(s)

Chatham Island grass tree, tarahinau

Current Conservation Status

2012 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon
2004 - Range Restricted


2012 - IE, Inc
2009 - IE


Dracophyllum arboreum Cockayne



Brief Description

Tree up to 18 m tall (known only from the Chatham islands), leaves, green, grass-like of two types (broad juvenile and narrow adult), with adult specimens bearing white flowers borne in spikes and often partially obscured by persistent hard and sharp–tipped floral bracts

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


Dracophyllum latifolium var. ciliolatum Hook. f.; Dracophyllum scoparium var. major Cheeseman


Endemic. Chatham Islands (Rekohu (Chatham), Rangiuria (Pitt ) and Rangatira (South East) Islands)


Dracophyllum arboreum is an important component of Chatham Island forest, especially away from the coast and on the deeper peaty soils. In these sites it is often the dominant tree. Sometimes found in restiad bog where it overlaps with and often forms hybrids with D. scoparium Hook.f.


Tree 4–18 m tall. Bark on old branches greyish–brown to brown, finely fissured, young stems yellowish to reddish brown. Leaves dimorphic (juvenile and adult); juvenile leaves crowded at tips of branches, spreading; lamina sheath 9.0–17.0 × 7.4–16.6 mm, yellowish to light green, coriaceous, tapering and margin ciliate or ciliate in upper half only; lamina subcoriaceous to coriaceous, 100–220 × 10–18 mm, linear–triangular, surfaces glabrous, margins densely pubescent; adult leaves spreading; lamina sheath 6–12 × 4–12 mm, light green, membranous, tapering with a ciliate margin; lamina 25–90 × 1–2 mm, linear to linear–triangular, surfaces glabrous with a tuft of scabrid hairs at base of adaxial surface; margins densely pubescent. Inflorescence a terminal spike on lateral branchlets, shorter than leaves, erect to drooping, dense, 15–38 mm long, linear–oblong; inflorescence bract overtopping the flower, 18–20 × 3–5 mm, subulate, surfaces glabrous, adaxial surface pubescent at base, margins ciliate. Flowers 4–9, sessile; flower bract persistent, overtopping flowers, foliose, 5.5–9.0 × 2.5–3.0 mm, ovate to broadly ovate, surfaces glabrous, adaxial surface with a tuft of scabrid hair at apex; margins ciliate. Sepals 4.0–7.0 × 2.5–3.0 mm, ovate lanceolate, longer than corolla tube, surfaces glabrous with the top half pubescent; margins ciliate. Corolla white; corolla tube 4–5 × 2.5–3.0 mm, cylindrical; corolla lobes reflexed, 2.0–2.4 × 1.0–2.0 mm, triangular, shorter than corolla tube; apices acute; adaxial surface papillate. Stamens inserted on corolla tube in upper third, filaments 0.3–1.0 mm long; anthers included, 0.3–0.4 mm long, oblong, light yellow. Ovary 1.7–2.0 × 1.0–2.0 mm, obovate; glabrous, apex round; nectary scales, 1.0–1.2 × 0.5–0.8 mm, oblong, apices irregularly toothed; style included, 2.0–2.5 mm long, glabrous; stigma capitate. Fruit sessile, 1.2–1.5 × 1.0–1.5 mm, oblong, apex round, dark brown, glabrous. Seed 0.6–0.65 mm long, ovoid, yellowish brown, testa slightly reticulate.

Similar Taxa

Dracophyllum arboreum is a distinctive and easily recognised species, well marked by its tree-habit (growing up to 18 m tall), long and broad juvenile leaves with adult leaves densely ciliated on the margins and pubescent at the base, persistent hard and sharp–tipped bracts that are broad with long white hairs on the adaxial surface, and by the corolla tube 4–5 mm long and shorter than the sepals (and with long cilia on the lower surface). Dracophyllum arboreum can be confused with D. scoparium, especially when it grows on the margins of the restiad bogs D. scoparium favours. From D. scoparium, D. arboreum differs by its taller tree habit, much larger, yellow-green rather than bronze-green to red-green, juvenile foliage, which is often carried through as reversion shoots on adult trees, and by the upper leaf surface which is pubescent rather than tomentose. Dracophyllum scoparium is confined to restiad bogs where it forms shrubs up to 2 m high. In disturbed habitats it frequently hybridises with D. arboreum.


Throughout the year

Flower Colours

Red / Pink,White


Throughout the year

Propagation Technique

Can be grown from fresh seed. However tricky to maintain. An attractive species that flourishes best in acidic, permanently damp but not water logged peaty soils.


Reasonably secure and regarded as not threatened. However populations off protected land are vulnerable to clearance for farmland and fires. Many populations in the northern two thirds of the main island are remnant stands on farmed land and are in decline. Despite this tarahinau is abundant over much of the southern table lands and on Pitt Island.

Chromosome No.

2n = 26

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Life Cycle and Dispersal

Minute seeds are wind dispersed (Thorsen et al., 2009).

Where To Buy

Not commercially available.


Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (4 October 2012). Description adapted from Venter (2009) supplemented by authors own observations and measurements.

References and further reading

Venter, S. 2009: A taxonomic revision of the genus Dracophyllum Labill. (Ericaceae). Unpublished Phd Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington.

Thorsen, M. J.; Dickinson, K. J. M.; Seddon, P. J. 2009. Seed dispersal systems in the New Zealand flora. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 11: 285-309

This page last updated on 24 Jul 2014