Sophora molloyi


Sophora: after the Arabic name for a similar tree
molloyi: The epithet "molloyi" honours Brian P. J. Molloy (1930–) an eminent New Zealand botanist, biosystematist, ecologist, and conservationist. Molloy's taxonomic interest covered New Zealand conifers, Melicytus, Pachystegia, Hebe, Leucogenes and especially New Zealand orchids.

Common Name(s)

Cook Strait Kowhai, Molloy's 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, Sp


Sophora molloyi Heenan et de Lange



Brief Description

A small dense kowhai tree to 3m tall bearing leaves to 100mm long that have equal-sized leaflets 5-12mm long and with bunches of drooping yellow flowers and dry ridged and knobbly seed pods 50-200mm long containing hard yellow seeds. Juveniles and adults similar. Inhabiting shores of Cook Strait.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs


None (described in 2001)


Endemic. New Zealand: North Island (Cape Terawhiti, Turakirae, Palliser Bay) and the Cook Strait (Stephens, Rangitoto, Chetwode, Titi, Arapawa, and Kapiti Islands)


Coastal. Locally within grey scrub developed on cliff, talus, and active alluvial fans, or in extremely exposed locations, where drought, salt burn, and severe wind damage are significant constraints on plant growth and diversity


Bushy, spreading to decumbent shrub, up to 3 m high, with several prostrate, decumbent and/or spreading main branches arising at or near ground level. Divaricating and/or flexuose juvenile branchlets absent; branchlets prostrate, decumbent to spreading, moderately to densely pubescent becoming glabrous with age; hairs appressed, straight. Seedlings and juveniles moderately to densely leafy, leaves with increasing numbers of leaflets. Leaflets of juveniles 2.5-3.5 × 2.0-2.5 mm, rotund to broadly elliptic, sparsely to moderately hairy, not crowded or overlapping. Leaves on adults up to 100 mm long, imparipinnate, subconduplicate, petioles and rachides channelled above, leaflets 23-37. Leaflets on adults 5.0-12.0 x 2.0-6.0 mm, elliptic, elliptic oblong, to broadly elliptic, distal and proximal leaflets similar in size, not crowded or overlapping, distant, upper surface dark green, lower surface light green; apices round to slightly retuse; bases obtuse; petiolules 0.4-0.5 mm long; petioles, rachides, petiolules, and leaflets usually pubescent, hairs c.0.2 mm long, appressed, straight. Inflorescences racemose, with up to 5 flowers, flowers usually hidden among foliage; peduncles and rachides 10-20 mm long; Pedicels up to l5 mm long, each subtended by a bract; bracts 1-2 mm long; peduncles, rachides, pedicels, bracts, and calyces moderately to densely pubescent hairs brown, appressed. calyx 9-12 × 10-16 mm, cupulate, rim shallowly lobed, with deeper notch adjacent to standard. Corolla Yellow; ked Petal blade 26-30 × 7.5-1 1 mm; wing Petal blade 25-30 x 6.5-8.5 mm; standard petal blade 20-23 × 18-21 mm; petals with distinct claws, 4.5-7.5 mm long. stipe 5-7 mm long, glabrous to sparsely pubescent. Ovary 1 8-20 mm long, densely pubescent; hairs 0.2-0.4 mm long, off-white to light brown, appressed. Style 1 1-12 mm long, glabrous to sparsely pubescent. Stigma fringed with short hairs. Filaments 24-30 mm long. Anthers 1.7-2.1 × 0.8-0.9 mm. Fruit 50-100 mm long 4-winged, brown, sparsely to moderately pubescent, with up to 9 seeds. Seeds 4.3-8.8 × 3.0-4.0 mm, oblong, light brown to yellow.

Similar Taxa

Easily recognised by its shrub growth habit, produced plants that are usually wider than high; with the main branches spreading to decumbent, sometimes prostrate, and lacking underground branches and rhizomes; and by the leaves which have 23-37 leaflets; these measuring 5.0-12.0 × 2.0-6.0 mm, elliptic, elliptic oblong, to broadly elliptic, and sparsely hairy; and by its geographic restriction to the Cook Strait islands and immediate southern North Island headlands where it is restricted to dry and exposed windy bluffs.


April – October

Flower Colours



June – May

Propagation Technique

Easy from seed. The hard seed coast should be lightly nicked or sanded and then soaked in water overnight before sowing to improve germination. Popular in cultivation where it is known as Sophora cv. Dragon's Gold


A Naturally Uncommon, sparsely distributed, range restricted endemic, secure within its island habitats but possibly threatened in some of its North Island locations by browsing animals such as goats.

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

Heenan, P.B.; de Lange, P.J.; Wilton, A.D. 2001: Sophora (Fabaceae) in New Zealand: taxonomy, distribution, and biogeography. New Zealand Journal of Botany, 39: 17-53

This page last updated on 19 Jan 2014