This article was published in the Titirangi Tatler, August 2009
Kawaka, New Zealand Cedar.
In these days of sustainability, many families are growing a kawaka in a pot to serve as their living Xmas tree. Instead of an annual dead exotic pine, they recycle their kawaka year after year, until eventually planting it out when it has grown too large to be repotted.
If, when next enjoying the nature trail at Arataki, or out walking in the bush, you see a conifer-like tree, it is likely to be a kawaka.
It, and its first cousin kaikawaka, are the most 'conifer-looking' of all New Zealand native trees. Note - neither has the name of the town Kaiwaka.
They are both attractive trees but kawaka is perhaps the more graceful. They have the delightful, feathery foliage of conifers without anything that looks like a true leaf. The foliage is more like a whipcord hebe with tightly compressed and flattened leaves arranged in groups of four around the branch. The kawaka forms an attractive, slim, upright tree to 5m before spreading and developing a cone shape up to 10 metres. This is ideal as a central lawn specimen, or on the edge of a border.
Kawaka prefers a rich moist soil and a little shelter but it is quite capable of surviving in much more extreme conditions of drought and exposure. Where it is tested by the conditions it will grow much more slowly but can develop a twisted, contorted look that is both picturesque and full of character. It is found naturally through much of the North Island and in the north-west corner of the South Island.
Being a conifer it does not have typical recognizable flowers but diminutive male strobili or catkins, and the female cones are tight scaly capsules with curved spines. Inside the cone four seeds can develop, each with a wing rather like a kauri's seed, and they are distributed in the same way, the wind often carrying them long distances.
When mature, kawaka has distinctive flaking bark which frequently appears to spiral up the trunk.