Karaka

Maori Name: Karaka
Common Name: Karaka
Botanical Name: Corynocarpus laevigatus

What does it look like?
Karaka  is usually quite easily recognized, especially when seen growing in more open situations. It forms a medium tree, usually up to 15m tall but occasionally taller and has easily recognizable  thick, leathery leaves with a shiny surface. Its small, green flowers are followed by large fleshy fruits, which when ripe are bright orange.

Where does it grow?
Karaka is abundant in coastal and lowland forests from the North Island to Banks Peninsula and Westland. Dispersal of the seeds by Maori was most likely as the berries were a prized food, which in turn would have led to an expansion of its range.

Seed Collection and propogation
Flowering occurs during spring and the fruits ripen January-April.  Seeds can be gathered beneath the tree in January or February or picked directly from the tree when ripe. Don’t allow the seeds to dry out and it is best if they are sown in a deep seed tray straight away. They can be stored for a few months in a moist plastic bag in the fridge.

Growing tips … in your plant growing unit or shade house

Seeds are quick to germinate in warm conditions and can grow to be be 40 cm tall 2 months from germination but be careful to ensure that the container is deep enough to allow the tap root to reach about 15cm on a 20cm plant.

Planting out for soil conservation
Karaka is best planted with some protection as it is frost tender. However, it grows rapidly and can reach a height of 4m in 5 years.

Used to …

Karaka was highly important to Maori as a source of food. The flesh of the fruits could be eaten raw, but the kernels were bitter, unpalatable and very toxic. Because of this they were soaked in water before being steam-baked for several hours so as to remove their toxicity. Next they were washed in running water to remove the husks and the fibrous matter that coats the kernels, and to ensure all traces of toxicity had disappeared. Once washed, they were then dried and stored. When required for use, the kernels were again steamed. On the Chatham Islands the kernels were known as kopi, as was the whole tree. Karaka fruit is eaten by New Zealand pigeons.

Did you know … ?
Karaka was so valued by the Maori that it was one of the few trees cultivated for its clusters of orange fruits. After treatment the kernels were ground into flour and baked into a bread. Also the shiny upper surface of the leaves healed wounds.

For more detailed information about Karaka you can read the Dept of Conservation Internal Series 101 by clicking here.