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Adding Value To The Business of Cropping

Germinating kōwhai seeds

Learning Intentions:

    Students will be able to:
  • provide the right conditions for seeds to germinate
  • chip the outer coat of the seed to promote germination
  • grow the seedlings and plant them to help re-wild our world!


  • Locate a kōwhai tree that has mature brown seed pods hanging from it.

What You Will Need:

  • Kōwhai seed pods.
  • Fingernail clippers.
  • Clean, used meat trays or similar.
  • Paper towels.
  • Plastic bags large enough to fit the meat trays.
  • Optional: Plastic tweezers to handle seedlings.
  • Optional: plant pots, potting mix and face masks for use while handling any potting mix.


Can you grow trees that have these beautiful flowers? You will need to be patient, but it's easy.

What to do

Follow these steps. The details are below.

1. Find kōwhai seeds

  • Locate a kōwhai tree that has dry, brown seed pods hanging from it. They are usually present all year round.
  • Make sure you have permission to pick the pods. Only remove enough for this experiment.

2. Remove seeds from the pods

    • Split the pods open with your fingernails and choose plump yellowish seeds. 
    • Seeds that are shrivelled, brown or have holes in them are no good.

3. Chipping the hard outer seed skin

The hard outer skin stops the seed from taking up water. In nature this is slowly broken down over time, but we need to speed things up.

  • Locate the seed scar on the side of the seed.
  • Use fingernail clippers to snip off a small portion of the seed skin from the opposite end to the scar, to reveal the creamy white food store. Caution: The inner flesh of the seed is poisonous so do not put in your mouth.
  • Repeat for 10 seeds in total. They are now ready to sow.

4. Germination set-up

To observe the germination process, set up the following:

  • Place a paper towel in the bottom of a clean meat tray. You may need to fold it so it fits neatly.
  • Wet the paper towel and pour off any excess water.
  • Position the seeds evenly on the paper and lay another damp paper towel on top.
  • Slip the tray inside a plastic bag and fold the end under to hold the moisture in.
  • Label and leave in a warm place indoors.
  • Record day-by-day what happens to the seeds over the next one to two weeks. You could use drawings, labels, descriptions, measurements and photos.

5. Plant the germinating seeds

If you want to grow the seedlings into trees:

  • Fill plant pots with potting mix and make a shallow hole in the middle of each one. Caution: wear masks when handling potting mix.
  • Very gently lift each germinating seedlings off the paper and place in a hole and cover.
  • Water the plants, and make sure they are kept damp, especially till they are above ground level.
  • Once the plants are about 20 cm tall, harden them off for a week or two in a sheltered location outside.

6. Planting out

You are now ready to plant your kōwhai seedlings in their final locations:

  • Make sure the area is weed-free.
  • Dig a hole and add a little manure.
  • Place a seedling in the hole and firm the soil around it.
  • Water well.
  • Over the next year remove weeds from near the tree. Water it when things get dry.