Elaeocarpus hookerianus is endemic to the North, South and Stewart Islands – uncommon from Auckland north. Common tree of lowland to montane forests over most of the country, but is sparsely distributed, even rare, throughout the North Island. It withstands high wind, even in insubstantial soils, and grows well on most soils, including poorly drained sites. Pōkākā adapts well to full sun or partial shade. Elaeocarpus hookerianus is one of the two elaeocarps found naturally in New Zealand, the other is E. dentatus which tends to be more coastal, however, they often grow in similar plant communities in Canterbury, beech and podocarp forests (such as Kahikatea) in particular. Pōkākā is one of the trees found in association with kahikatea in damp lowland forests and usually grows on river terraces and lowland plains.
In its adult stage, it is somewhat similar to Elaeocarpus dentatus but has much smaller, uniformly darker coloured leaves, and smaller flowers and fruits. The leathery leaves differ from those of E. dentata in that they are smaller and have more distinctly toothed margins that are not downturned. As a juvenile, Elaeocarpus hookerianus has a tangled mass of wiry twigs and small leaves that transform into a tall tree with a dense canopy of broad evergreen leaves. Smaller than Hīnau, Pōkākā grows to a maximum of 15m. Initially a slow grower, Pōkākā doesn’t bloom until it has grown out of the juvenile form. Once adult, small green-white flowers open between November and January and are similar to Hīnau. The plum-like fruit ripens to dark purple from April to June.
For more information on plant communities, we recommend DOC’s publication Native Plant Communities of the Canterbury Plains.