Mahoe*

Maori Name: Mahoe
Common Name: Whiteywood
Botanical Name: Melicytus ramiflorus

What does it look like?
Mahoe is best identified by the smooth, pale bark and branches that are often covered in patches of white lichen – hence the name ‘Whiteywood’. It grows into a large shrub or spreading tree up to 10 metres high, with many branches from the trunk. The bright green leaves are up to 15cm long, and 5 cm wide, with serrated edges. The tiny greenish-yellow flowers found in early summer are beautifully scented, and grow out straight from the branches. In autumn the branches of female trees bear masses of small purple berries, provided there is a male tree close by.

Where does it grow?
Mahoe is common throughout New Zealand from sea level to mountain forests. It is usually found in open areas, on the edge of forest, in gullies and streamside areas. It grows best in well drained and reasonably fertile soils, and prefers a moist climate. Although it can tolerate exposed sites, it will become very misshapen by strong winds. Mahoe can’t tolerate heavy frosts, but it will recover from mild frost damage.
Mahoe is not only found in New Zealand, but also on Norfolk, Tonga and the Fiji Islands.

Growing tips – in your plant growing unit
Keep the Mahoe well watered, and trim the tops of the plants in late summer / autumn to keep to 30 cm growth. Leggy plants do not grow as well as more compact forms, so regular trimming will help them establish.

Planting out for soil conservation
Mahoe is not well suited to planting on fresh erosion scars, as it does not do well on infertile soils. It is best suited to riparian planting – along streams to prevent stream bank erosion and to shade the stream and improve water quality. But it must be planted far enough back from the stream to be in well drained soil – and far enough away from the fence so that stock won’t eat the highly palatable leaves.

Used to …
The main use of the Mahoe to the early Maori was in the friction method of fire lighting. A slab of soft Mahoe was one of the best woods for scraping with a pointed stick of the harder Totara or kaikomako to make a flame. The timber itself is brittle and useful only as firewood. Early Pakeha burned Mahoe to produce charcoal to make certain kinds of gunpowder.

Did you know … ?
The flowers of the Mahoe smell beautiful and are somewhat unusual in that nectar is produced from small nectaries situated on the stamens of the male flowers. Hence the name ‘Melicytus’, which in Greek means meli (honey) and kytos (hollow container), literally “honey-cave”‘ in reference to the staminal nectaries of the flowers.

Download Mahoe information sheet