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Vitex lucens

Vitex lucens

Another entry written by Alexis today. She writes:

Tony Foster @ Flickr photographed these Vitex lucens flowers in Northland, New Zealand (also see a photograph of an entire tree via Wikimedia). Thank you, Tony!

First encountered by Western explorers in 1769 (by Banks and Solander), Vitex lucens, also called New Zealand teak or mahogany, is perhaps best known by its Maori name puriri. This is a tree species that is endemic to the North Island of New Zealand, where it is a constituent of coastal and lowland forests. Puriri can reach 20m in height and 1.5m in diameter and several books and online sources have described it as being a "handsome" tree. Indeed, it produces many attractive flowers that bloom in May, some of which can be spotted on the tree all year round. The flowers contain much nectar and darken in colour as they age.

Puriri timber is of great value. The dark brown wood is hard, dense and heavy, making for New Zealand's strongest and most durable timber. It has been used to construct railway ties, fence posts, and bridges (from Metcalf's The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees and Shrubs (1987)). However, this valuable wood is not without its challenges. In addition to the irregular grain that makes working with it difficult, Vitex lucens often falls victim to the puriri moth or ghost moth, Aenetus virescens, which bores 1cm diameter holes in the tree trunks (ref: Eagle's 100 Trees of New Zealand 1978)).

The Maori people had several uses for puriri. They used the wood to build weapons, garden tools, and eel traps--puriri timber is one of the few in the area dense enough to sink in water. The tree also had significance to Maori funerals; infusions made from boiling the leaves were used to cleanse and help preserve bodies, the leaves were carried or shaped into a coronet during funerals, and often puriri trees were used as burial sites.

Read more about Vitex lucens (PDF) via the National Association of Woodworkers NZ Inc.

13 Comments

This lovely small tree with nice compound leaves and the obviously beautiful flowers grows well in the S.F. Bay Area but is woefully underused as an evergreen specimen tree or part of an informal hedge/barrier/view-blocker. Would love to see it more 'in the trade'.

The foliage is shiny and lustrous:

Pleased you liked the photo. Puriri is one of my favorite New Zealand native plants. It is quick growing, flowers for most of the year, is evergreen and produces the berries for one of our endangered birds-the New Zealand wood pigeon.
Here's some links to other photos and information on the species.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fostert/5062820941/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fostert/5163255656/

Wow! Glossy undulating leaves, a muscular presence and evergreen... this tree has it all, with flowers to boot. I can't help wondering if the leaves have any scent (thinking of Vitex agnus-castus) It is a pet peeve of mine that plant scents are so ignored in botanical descriptions. Lovely photos and write-up. Thanks - for every day!

Wendy - the tree is in the Lamiaceae so I would say it's at least a decent possibility the leaves have some kind of scent.

Eric- Next time you have the chance, check it out! I'm really interested to know.

Unfortunately that's going to be awhile. I moved to Arkansas a couple weeks ago - no more walks through Strybing!

thank you i do not know who planned out earth to
have trees and flowers but thank you- lovely tree

eric will you still be eric in sf?

thank you alexis

Elizabeth - for now I will be! One of the quirks of the 21st century is that search engines don't like people changing their names. I might change it in the future but for now I'm still "Eric in SF" who lives in Arkansas. =)

In the forest around where I live in northern New Zealand the puriri trees are flowering strongly at the moment, even though its mid winter. The ground underneath them is littered with many spent flowers. I cannot detect a sweet or aromatic scent from them other than they smell 'flowery'. When I crush the leaves between my hands, again no detectable sweet scent, other than the scent of crushed leaves.

I enjoy reading botany photo of the day, have done so for some time, and appreciate the effort that is put into it, but I must protest at the Eurocentricity of claiming that Vitex lucens was discovered in 1769 by Banks and Solander, only to ironically be followed by its Maori name and uses. Thank you.

Interesting observation Mat - it's one I became aware of when I was in Hawai'i last. It's considered good form to refer to plants native to the islands by their Hawaiian names first.

Folks in the orchid community have started noting that a species was first described by "western science" rather than simply "first described".

Not sure what the formal process is in Botany for recognizing that western science lags first peoples in the knowledge and understanding of plants indigenous to a region.

Right -- that'd be my fault as editor for letting that one get by.

I think you'll find on the whole that we rarely make these sorts of mistakes.

Corrected.

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