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Pittosporum: pitch seed
Current Threat Status
2012 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon
Previous Threat Status
2009 - At Risk - Naturally Uncommon
2004 - Sparse
2012 - Sp
Pittosporum ellipticum Kirk
Small tree with fuzzy brownish new growth and oval leaves that are paler underneath and with hard capsules that split into two to show the black sticky seed inhabiting the upper North Island. Leaves 5-10cm long, often with some brown fuzz underneath. Capsules also brown fuzzy.
Vascular - Native
Pittosporum ellipticum Kirk subsp. ellipticum, Pittosporum ellipticum var. decorum Cheeseman, Pittosporum ellipticum subsp. ovatum Kirk, Pittosporum ellipticum var. ovatum (Kirk) Kirk
Endemic. North Island from Te Paki to Mt Pirongia in the west and about the Karangahake and Waioeka Gorges in the East.
Most usually associated with kauri (Agathis australis) forest, often on ridge lines, slips scars or in secondary regrowth within cut over kauri forest. Outside this forest type it is often found in association with tanekaha (Phyllocladus trichomanoides), towai (Weinmannia silvicola) or kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa). In all situations it prefers relatively open vegetation, where it typically forms apparently evenly-aged cohorts.
Small gynodioecious tree up to 8 m tall but usually less. Trunk and branches dark brown, young branchlets clad in fine, appressed rust-coloured tomentum. Leaves alternate, crowded at tips of branches. Petioles 4-15 x 1.5-2 mm, densely invested in appressed, rust-coloured tomentum. Lamina 30-97 x 15-50 mm, yellow-green to dark green above, pale red-green or reddish-yellow beneath, elliptic-oblong, ovate or obovate, apex and base acute or obtuse, margin entire; emergent and expanding leaves densely invested in appressed, rust-coloured tomentum, soon becoming glabrate above and sparsely tometnose to glabrate beneath, coriaceous. Flowers in terminal 2-6-flowered fascicles; pedicels 5-14 mm, accrescent in fruit, rusty orange to rust-grey tomentose, subtended by several caducous, rusty-tomentose 1-2 mm long bud scales. Sepals linear, acuminate, 8-11 x 2-2.7 mm, rusty-tomentose, ciliate; petals 14-19.5 x 3-3.5 mm, oblanceolate-linear, subacute, recuvred at tips, reddish-brown, chocolate or dark golden yellow; stamens 7-11 mm, anthers 1-3 mm. Ovary 2.5-7.5 x 1.5-4.5 mm, invested in rust-coloured hairs, style 1.5-6.5 mm long, stigma capitate or tuncate. Capsules, woody, subglobose, 3 or 2-valved, 15-20 x 13-17 mm, covered in rust-borwn to rust-grey tomentum. Mucilage yellow-red to orange. Seeds 25-36 (with many aborted), reddish-back, somewhat irregular in outline.
Most similar to Pittosporum huttonianum from which it is differs by the rust-coloured (rather than grey to grey-white) tomentum on the emergent leaves and leaf undersides.
July - October
Main Flower Colour
Other Flower Colour
Red / Pink
August - January (though fruit is long persistent and may be seen year round)
Difficult. Seed may take up to five years to germinate and germination is often poor. Best grown from semi-hardwood cuttings, though even these can be hard to strike. Although an attractive small tree it is often hard to maintain in cultivation, and is prone to sudden collapse in times of stress. This is a shame because the red, orange and yellow-flowered forms are very beautiful.
Not directly threatened though it is generally very uncommon throughout its range, and where found it is often known from one or two trees. Howevere, there are exceptions, for example the species is common along the ridge lines of Mt Manaia, Bream Head and in the Waitakere Ranges (especially near Anawhata and Destruction Gully).
2n = 24
In its typical form this is a well marked and very distinctive species. However around the Karangahake Gorge and south of there to the Waioeka Gorge plants referrable to Cheeseman's Pittosporum ellipticum var. decorum occur. These are rather intermediate with P. huttonianum . Critical study using molecular markers is needed to resolve this problem.
References and further reading
Cooper, R.C. 1956: The Australian and New Zealand species of Pittosporum. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 43: 87-188
This page last updated on 12 Dec 2014