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Taxonomy of New Zealand Native Legumes

Updated 7th January 2016

This page details the current taxonomy of the native legumes present in New Zealand. Legumes are in the plant family Fabaceae (an older name is Leguminosae). Carmichaelia, Clianthus, and Montigena are closely related in the subtribe 'Carmichaelinae' in the astragalean clade of the Galegeae (sensu lato) tribe, the astragalean clade also contains the common Astragalus species. The New Zealand Sophora (kowhai) belong to sector Edwardsia of Sophora in the tribe Sophoreae. For the most recent updated data see the nzflora website:

Sophora (Kowhai)

Kowhai is a small tree native to New Zealand. There are eight species, listed below. Kowhai trees grow throughout the country and are a common feature in New Zealand gardens. Kowhai grow to around eight metres high and have fairly smooth bark with small leaves. They flower from spring through to early summer with large, bright, horn-shaped, yellow flowers. Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow, from the colour of the flowers.

Sophora chathamica (Costal kowhai)
Sophora fulvida (Waitakere kowhai)
Sophora godley (Godley's Kowhai, papa kowhai)
Sophora longicarinata  
Sophora microphylla (Small-leaved kowhai)
Sophora molloyi (Cook Straight kowhai)
Sophora prostrata (Prostrate kowhai)
Sophora tetraptera (Large-leaved kowhai, Taupo kowhai)

(From Heenan et al. 2001 | based on leaf characters and growth habits, this paper also has a useful key to identify the species)


Carmichaelia (New Zealand Broom)

Carmichaelia R.Br. (1825) was named after Captain Dugald Carmichael, a Scottish army officer and botanist. (Allen and Allen, 1981). The English vernacular name is 'New Zealand broom', and in Maori is variably known as tawao, makaka, maukoro, and tainoka (Parsons et al., 1998). The taxonomic history of this genus is complex, and has been confused by inadequate collections and intraspecific variation (Heenan, 1995a). The formerly recognised genera of Chordospartium, Corallospartium, Notospartium, and Huttonella are now included in Carmichaelia (Heenan, 1995c, 1998a,c). In the most recent treatment (Heenan, 1995a, 1996), there are 22 species of Carmichaelia native to New Zealand. An additional species, C. exsul, is found on Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, 600 km east from Australia. The species exhibit remarkable diversity, from trees to prostrate forms a few centimetres high.

Carmichaelia appressa  
Carmichaelia arborea (Swamp Broom)
Carmichaelia astonii  
Carmichaelia australis  
Carmichaelia carmichaeliae formerly Notospartium carmichaeliae
Carmichaelia compacta  
Carmichaelia corrugata  
Carmichaelia crassicaulis subsp. racemosa formerly Corallospatium crassicaule var. racemosum
Carmichaelia crassicaulis subsp. crassicaulis formerly Corallospatium crassicaule
Carmichaelia curta  
Carmichaelia glabrescens formerly Notospartium glabrescens
Carmichaelia hollowayi  
Carmichaelia juncea  
Carmichaelia kirkii  
Carmichaelia monroi  
Carmichaelia muritai formerly Chordospartium muritai
Carmichaelia nana  
Carmichaelia odorata formerly Carmichaelia angustata
Carmichaelia petriei  
Carmichaelia stevensonii formerly Chordospartium stevensonii
Carmichaelia torulosa formerly Notospartium torulosum
Carmichaelia uniflora  
Carmichaelia vexillata  
Carmichaelia williamsii  
Carmichaelia exsul from Lord Howe Island (not NZ)

From Heenan 1998a; 1998b, NZ Plant Names Database, and Heenan & Barkla 2007.


Clianthus (Kakabeak)

Clianthus Soland. ex Lindl. was named from the Greek kleos 'glory' and anthos 'flower' (Allen and Allen 1981). The English vernacular name is 'kakabeak' after its distinctive flowers shaped like a native parrot's (kaka) beak, it is known in Maori as 'kowhai ngutukaka' (Shaw and Burns 1997). Once monotypic, in the most recent treatment (Heenan, 1995, 2000), there are now two species (C. maximus and C. puniceus) native to New Zealand. It is found naturally only in isolated refuges in the eastern North Island. Formerly some Australian and Asian legumes were classified as Clianthus, these are now known as Swainsona and Sarcodum (Bisby et al., 2005).

Clianthus puniceus
Clianthus maximus


Montigena (Scree pea)

Montigena (Hook.f.) Heenan, is named from 'mountain-born' referring to its habitat. (Heenan 1998a). The English vernacular name is 'scree pea'. Montigena novae-zelandiae is the only species in the Montigena genus. Until 1998 it was known as Swainsona novae-zelandiae until Heenan 1998a reclassified it based on morphological features. There are still currently 55 Swainsona species, mostly in Australia (ILDIS). Montigena has a distinctly different ITS sequence from other New Zealand legumes, but forms a clade with the Australian Swainsona (Wagstaff, 1999). Montigena is endemic to the dry eastern mountains of the South Island of New Zealand, where it grows on partially stable scree slopes.

Montigena novae-zelandiae



Heenan P.B, de Lange P.J, Wilton A.D. (2001) "Sophora (Fabaceae) in New Zealand: taxonomy, distrubution and biogeography." New Zealand Journal of Botany. 39: 17–53 doi:10.1080/0028825X.2001.9512715

Landcare Research Herbarium (CHR). (2001) New Zealand Plant Names Database. Available

Heenan P.B. (2000) "Clianthus (Fabaceae) in New Zealand: a reappraisal of Colenso's taxonomy." New Zealand Journal of Botany. 38: 361–371 doi:10.1080/0028825X.2000.9512688

International Legume Database & Information Service (ILDIS). (2000) Legume Web. Available

Heenan P.B. (1998a) "Phylogenetic anaylsis of the Carmichaelia complex, Clianthus, and Swainsona (Fabaceae), from Australia and New Zealand." New Zealand Journal of Botany. 36: 21–40

Heenan P.B. (1998b) "An emended circumscription of Carmichaelia, with new combinations, a key, and notes on hybrids."New Zealand Journal of Botany. 36: 53–63