Elaeocarpus dentatus var. dentatus is the subspecies of Hīnau found naturally in Canterbury. It is a tall coastal, lowland tree occasionally extending into montane forest. A distinctive tree easily recognised by the leathery bicoloured leaves, white “lily of the valley” like flowers, and small ovoid purple-black drupes. It reaches a height of around 18m, with a broad spreading crown making it ideal as a shade or street tree. The wide trunk has greyish bark which roughens with age.
From October to February, Elaeocarpus dentatus has conspicuous sprays of flowers that are white and droop down, and are lobed at their tips. It fruits from December through to when it ripens in May. The fruit are purple-black egg-shaped drupes which are attractive to birds. E. dentatus prefers a rich, moist soil in partial shade.
Elaeocarpus dentatus is one of the two elaeocarps found naturally in New Zealand, the other is Elaeocarpus hookerianus which tends to be found further inland than Hīnau, however, they often grow in similar plant communities in Canterbury, beech and podocarp forests in particular.
Used extensively by Māori, the fruit was an important food source and other parts of the plant were used for domestic purposes. For more information on uses, please refer to Landcare Research’s Plant use Database.