NZ Nurseries

Kanuka NZ Nurseries

Manuka or Kanuka?

What is the difference?

There is often confusion between what is a Manuka and what is a Kanuka. We will discuss the differences below so that you can easily tell them apart. Having similar names does not help the case much and they are both frontier / regenerative trees. However, they do have some different characteristics. Interestingly, the Manuka will usually come first, setting up the natural nursery for the taller Kanuka to push through and form a higher forest canopy. This is why the Manuka may only live 30-50 years when the kanuka can live up to 300 years.


Manuka is quite adaptive. It can be found throughout the North, South and Stewart Island in altitudes up to 1800m. Once established is very tolerant to strong winds, poor soils, droughts, waterlogging, and more acidic places than Kanuka.

Kanuka is slightly fussier when compared to the Manuka. It naturally lives from the top of the North down to around central Otago. It will also go in a wide range of soils and harsh conditions but appears to be less favourable to waterlogging than Manuka.

So essentially they will both grow everywhere, but with just Manuka tolerating the deep south. So we will need something else to ID the difference, rather than just location.

The Bark

Firstly, the bark is usually a good Identifier as you can use it as an ID mechanism at the early stages of its life cycle. The Manuka will have slightly smaller, patchy, flaky brown bark, whereby Kanuka will have long strips of stringybark across the trunk and trees.


Manuka Barn


Kanuka Bark

The Height

If you are lucky enough to come across a mature stand, then the second indicator is the height of the trees. Kanuka is generally much taller maturing to around 5-10m. Compare this to a Manuka which is sometimes referred to as a shrub growing to around 2-5m.

Manuka (Red)

red Kanuka Tree


Kanuka NZ Nurseries


Further to this, if you are able to touch the leaves you will find manuka have pointy ends and Manuka is relatively softer. An easy way to remember which is which, is “Manuka is Mean, Kanuka is Kind”.

Manuka (White)

white manuka flower


Kanuka NZ Nurseries

The Flowers

The Flowering size is a tricky way to ID, as you need to be able to compare unless you have a great memory. However, the Manuka is a larger flower than the Kanuka. The flowering colors are usually white, however, a single pink/red flowering variety was discovered in 1904, and produces a lovely flower. Kanuka will have a smaller white flower.

We are big fans of both trees as they are some of the best frontier trees for regeneration and have a range of benefits to the forest ecosystem and neighbouring soils and farm conditions. They are both pretty hardy, especially once established.

You can check out more information on either Manuka or Kauka. We also stock both trees (The Red Manuka) so get in touch or check out the online shop below if you would like to place an order for either.

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