The Strong Tree
Akeake (Dodonaviea scosa) is an attractive and fast-growing shrub or small tree, with particularly hard wood that is prized by Māori for making taiaha and other weapons and tools. Akeake is native to New Zealand, however is also found throughout the world.
This resource has been created to help you to get more familiar with the Akeake, gain an insight into its rich history, its variety of uses and to support you with planning and caring for your Akeake.
Traditional and Medicinal Uses:
Dodonaea viscosa, commonly called Akeake and also has been referred to as ‘sticky hop bush’. Named after a Flemish botanist of the 16th century; Rembert Dodoens and the viscosa is derived from the Latin term viscosus meaning sticky. This name comes from the young Akeake being covered with a sticky secretion that hardens with age.
The exceptionally hardwood of Akeake was much favoured by Maori for making paddles, taiaha, patu and other weapons as well as garden implements. The name Akeake meaning ‘forever forever’ in Maori is best summed up by the words spoken by Hauraki Tonganui on 2 April 1864 at the battle of Orakau “E hoa, ka whawhai tonu ahau ki a koe, ake ake!” meaning: “Friend, I shall fight against you forever, forever!”. The name forever also indicating the immense strength of this wood. The twigs can be used to make dye.
Akeake is a native New Zealand tree (though it is also found in Australia and other South Pacific countries) that has been used for medicine by Maori tribes in their rongoa (medicinal) traditions for generations. People have used the roots, leaves and bark as different parts have different healing properties. Overall, it is known a to be good for degenerative diseases, such as high blood pressure, prostate cancer and even asthma and obesity.
When using the leaves and bark externally for burns and scalds it is known to reduce swelling. The Akeake juice that is extracted from the leaves is rich in tannin which can be applied directly as a styptic. When used internally the rongoa is used to reduce fever, headaches, inflammation, for indigestion, gout and rheumatism. The plant is also used as a relaxant for muscles which spasm. The leaves are full of strong antioxidants making it a wonderfully healing choice of tea.
The leaves can also be chewed for toothache. It has been reported that the leaves are used in Peru in the same way as coca leaves that suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. It can be rubbed on joints, cuts, bites and skin rashes. To help with headaches rubbing it on your temples helps reduce pain.
Akeake belongs to the Sapindaceace family, members of this family are commonly known as ‘soapberries’ or ‘soapnuts’ as the fruit pulp is used to make soap.
A small group of shrubby trees are loosely grouped under the common name of Akeake as they have similar traits, growth habits, and tolerate similar conditions. As the Akeake are part of the Sapindaceae family which include:
- Dodonea viscosa, ‘Purple Ake Ake’
- Dodonea viscosa – ‘Green Ake Ake’
- Olearia Paniculata – ‘Golden Ake Ake’
- Olearea traversii – ‘Chatham Island Ake Ake’.
Habitat: Coastal areas to lowland forest. It is tolerant to drought and light frosts. Akeake easily occupies open areas and secondary forest and is resistant to salinity, drought, and pollution.
Uses: These make stunning New Zealand native feature trees or hedges, depending on whether you prune them or let them grow for a more ‘wild’ look. This plant is drought tolerant and great for erosion control. Akeake makes an excellent screen or windbreak that can protect less-hardy plants. The timber from akeake is one of the hardest native woods. It’s useful for erosion control and dune stabilisation and can equally be used for the mediation of polluted lands and for reforestation. All parts can be used medicinally and the pulp can be used to make soap.
- They grow from a seed in the ground to become a tree up to 10m high.
- Fruiting is between November and April.
- It flowers in late autumn to spring and will often self-seed.
- The flowers are red/pink and yellow and one plant bears either male or female flowers.
- All Akeake’s have interesting and easily recognisable thin, wavy leaves. The purple Akeake ranges from bright vivid red, to deep dark maroon-purple, the Chatham Island Akeake with its silvery green or the unique lime and bright greens of the others. The leaves are 4-15cm long by 1-4cm wide, gradually narrowing to short leaf stalk and quickly narrowing to a rounded leaf tip.
- Bushy shrub or small tree with flaky reddish bark. The flowers are in panicles, small, yellow-green to red-green, developing into green dry 2-4-winged capsules.
- A recommended companion plant is a wineberry. Also planting other native plants will support regeneration of Aotearoa New Zealand’s species.
Growing your own Akeake:
Akeake is easy to grow and are not fussy at all. Akeake seedlings are best planted in late autumn to early winter, this allows the roots to develop before the soil gets too cold.
To get started planting, make sure to find a sunny spot and prep the soil by removing weeds and possibly adding some Nitrophoska to boost and balance the nutrients in your soil. Plant your seedlings 1m apart if you are trying to create a dense hedge, this will allow for sufficient room for the roots to grow. Your seedlings will need an initial watering every few days if it doesn’t rain, this will ensure their best possible start. Once you’ve planted your seedlings, make sure to mulch them to keep in the moisture as well as to suppress weed growth. Keep the mulch depth around the plant light, about 1 cm deep when close to the stems. Top this up every six months to get the best out of your plants.
Making a Hedge?
If you’re planting Akeake to make a hedge, think about mixing up your natives and try planting your akeake with Corokia, Manuka, Kanuka, and Pittosporum. Mixing the natives will help create a dense privacy hedge and by using different evergreen native varieties you’re creating a more charismatic and compact hedge which creates a lovely backdrop to the deciduous trees of winter.
Growth: Left alone Akeake will grow into a medium tree, reasonably quickly up to a height of 10 meters. Typically, growth is 5 meters in the first 5 years and it is considered to be at full maturity in 7 years. They respond beautifully to clipping and can be easily formed into a sculpted smaller tree which will have a very distinctive look full of character. Lightly trim for shelter or screen 3-5m. Leave untrimmed for a tree up to 8m+.
Maintenance: Little maintenance is necessary. However, regular tip pruning will promote growth and branching.
Main Threats: Trampling and browsing by domestic and feral cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and possums. If you can fence off the area that will help growth. Weed competition can also be a threat.
The Akeake is a simple and great tree. Easy to get going and you can prune it to suit your purpose. Great for a bit of shade if you want to trim it up, or prune it into a hedge. Can plant along waterways in combination with Kanuka, the odd Kowhai and a few Southern Rata.
A tough coastal tree/shrub, the Ake Ake is great for harsh conditions growing to around 10m. One of the highest density of NZ timbers. Historically used as walking staves, clubs and weapons. The fruit pulp has been known to make soap.