Corynocarpus: From the Greek koryne ‘club’ and –carpus ‘fruit’
Current Conservation Status
2012 - Not Threatened
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 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened
Corynocarpus laevigatus J.R.Forst. et G.Forst.
Large tree about as wide as tall with many thick dark green glossy leaves and large oval orange fruit. Bark dark, with dark spots on trunk. Leaves 10-20cm long, paler underneath. Fruit to 4cm long, oval, in dense sprays, flesh thin.
Vascular - Native
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.
Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs
Endemic. Exact indigenous distribution uncertain due to its widespread historic planting by Maori. Common from Raoul and the Three Kings Islands, throughout the North and South Islands to Banks Peninsula and Okarito. Also on the Chatham Islands. Most botanists accept it as native only to the northern half of the North Island. It is probably naturalised from deliberate Polynesian plantings on Raoul and the Chatham Islands.
Common in mainly coastal situations, often a major component of coastal forest, rarely dominant. Occasionally found inland, and then often in association with Maori cultural deposits.
Leafy canopy tree up 15 m tall. Trunk stout up to 1 m diam., Bark grey. Branches stout, erect to spreading. Petioles 10-15 mm long. Leaves dark green above paler beneath, thick, leathery, (50-)100-150(-200) x (30-)50-70 mm, glossy, elliptic to obovate-oblong, margins recurved. Inflorescence a stout, erect panicle up to 200 mm long, peduncles and pedicels short, somewhat fleshy, pale green. Flowers 4-5 mm diam., greenish-cream to off-white or pale yellow. Sepals suborbicular, petals 5, obovate-spathulate, alternating with 5 subpetaloid staminodes. Fruit an ellipsoid to ovoid drupe 25-40(-46) mm long, flesh pale yellow to orange. Endocarp a fibrous reticulum surrounding a smoother, harder papery layer beneath. This structure enclosing a single seed (kernel).
Karaka is a very distinctive tree unlikely to be confused with any other indigenous, naturalised or planted exotic tree. The simply, leathery, dark green leaves and large orange drupes with their fibrous endocarp serve to immediately distinguish it. Some Botanic Gardens hold specimens of the other 4 species of the genus, vegetatively these look similar to karaka but their fruits are very different in colour, shape and size.
August - November
January - April
Easily grown from fresh seed. Cuttings are very difficult to strike. Frost-tender and cold-sensitive when young.
Abundant and not threatened. Often naturalising in suitable habitats.
2n = 44
Life Cycle and Dispersal
Fleshy drupes are dispersed by frugivory (Thorsen et al., 2009).
Where To Buy
Common in cultivation and widely sold both in New Zealand and around the world. A serious pest in the Hawaiian Islands. Because the fresh kernels of the species contain a lethal neurotoxin Karakin, and so the species has been banned from some amenity plantings and day care and kindergartens. The toxin, an alkaloid breaks down with exposure to UV light.
The fleshy outer part of the fruit can be eaten but the kernel in which the seed occur is poisonous (a neurotoxin known as karakin) unless detoxified through cooking. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and seizures. There may also be the onset of muscular spasms after several weeks. Click on this link for more information about Poisonous native plants.
Fact Sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange (1 September 2004). Description based on Allan (1961).
References and further reading
Allan, H.H. 1961: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. 1. Wellington, Government Printer.
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 6 Dec 2014