33 / Kakabeak

genus Clianthus

The kakabeak, or kōwhai ngutukākā, is a shrub found only in New Zealand, and is a member of the pea family. Its closest relatives are in Australia, and were known to Victorians as the ‘desert pea’. In spring the kakabeak produces spectacular clusters of large red flowers – though there are creamy-white and rose-pink varietals too. The plant is so named because of the similarity of its flower to the beak of the kākā, the native parrot found in forested areas throughout the three main islands of New Zealand. Whether by design or default, the beak of the kākā fits perfectly into the flower, as the bird seeks the nectar within. In 1903 the gardening section of the Otago Witness referred to the ‘well known and justly esteemed’ kakabeak, with its ‘brilliant and crimson corolla’. Unfortunately, the kakabeak is now a very rare plant in the wild.

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