Sophora longicarinata


Sophora: after the Arabic name for a similar tree

Common Name(s)

Limestone Kowhai

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 - RR


Sophora longicarinata G.Simpson et J.S.Thomson



Brief Description

A small multi-trunked kowhai tree bearing leaves to 140mm long that have equal-sized leaflets 3.3-5.8mm long and with bunches of drooping yellow flowers and dry ridged and knobbly seed pods 70-160mm long containing hard yellow seeds. Juveniles and adults similar. Occurring on limestone in the top of the South Island.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


Sophora microphylla subp. microphylla var. longicarinata (G.Simpson & J.S.Thomson) Yakovlev; Sophora microphylla var. longicarinata (G.Simpson et J.S.Thomson) Allan


Endemic. New Zealand: South Island (Takaka hill and immediate environs, Arthur Range and western Malrborough)


Lowland to montane. A basicole growing confined to base-rich soils derived from marble and limestone parent materials . It grows on ledges and in crevices on limestone and marble outcrops, among boulders, rock debris, and rubble surrounding these outcrops, in gullies with deeper soils, and on alluvium over-lying marble rock.


Shrub or tree lacking juvenile growth habit . Shrub with branches often originating at or below ground level, sometimes with rhizomatous shoots; tree with single and stout main trunk or several smaller stems originating from near or below ground level. Branchlets hairy, becoming glabrous with age. Leaves up to 140 mm long, imparipinnate , with 35–52 leaflets ; rachis sparsely to densely hairy; immature and developing leaves moderately to densely hairy. Mature leaflets 3.3–5.8 × 2 5–3.1 mm, orbicular, obovate, to oblong-obovate, overlapping to distant on rachis; margin glabrous ; apex obtuse to retuse; upper surface dark green, glabrous to sparsely hairy; lower surface light green, sparsely hairy to moderately hairy ; petiolule <0 .5 mm long , glabrous to moderately hairy. Inflorescences in racemes, with up to 7 flowers; rachis 17–25 mm long , moderately to densely hairy, hairs brown; pedicel 20–40 mm long, often twisted but usually straightening at maturity, moderately to densely hairy, hairs yellow-brown to brown. Calyx 10–14 mm long, 11-14 mm wide, shallowly lobed at rim; moderately to densely hairy, hairs yellow-brown to brown. Flowers yellow; keel petals 35–50 × 6–11 mm, wing petals 32.0–40,0 × 5.5–10.0 mm, standard petal 25–33 × 16–20 mm; petals with claws 4–10 mm long ; ovary densely hairy, hairs off-white ; filaments 30–45 mm long, anthers 1 5–2.5 mm long . Fruit 70–160 mm long. Seeds 6–8 × 5–6 mm, oblong, yellow to yellow-brown.

Similar Taxa

Distinguished from other New Zealand Sophora species by it’s restriction to northern Nelson, western Marlborough, where it grows on mostly marble and limestone rock outcrops; by its normally shrubby growth habit, forming a shrub or small tree usually of similar width and height; by the main branches upright to spreading; by the presence of underground branches and rhizomes; by the usual presence of numerous branches and suckers near the base; by the leaves bearing 35-52 leaflets; and by the leaflets which are 3.3-5.8 × 2.5-3.1 mm, orbicular, obovate, to oblong-obovate, and usually more or less glabrous.


October – January

Flower Colours



December – November

Propagation Technique

Easily grown from seed. Some careful selection is needed, as there are distinct tree and shrub genotypes. Does well in a sunny, well drained soil but often prone to trunk damage from boring beetles.


A naturally uncommon, range restricted species that is sparsely distributed within its mainly marble and limestone rock habitats. Goats are a problem at some locations and a few others have been damaged by plantation forestry but overall this species seems secure.

Chromosome No.

2n = 18

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Where To Buy

Can be purchased from Oratia Native Plant Nurseries (info@oratianatives.co.nz)


Description from Heenan et al. (2001).

References and further reading

Anonymous. 1944. Kowhai. Wellington Botanical Society Bulletin, 9: 4-5

Heenan, P.B. 1997: Reinstatement of Sophora longicarinata (Fabaceae – Sophoreae) from northern South Island, New Zealand, and typification of S. microphylla. New Zealand Journal of Botany 36: 369–379.

This page last updated on 19 Jan 2014