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Plant Profile: Puka

Puka - Meryta sinclairiiBotanical Name: Meryta sinclairii

Family: Araliaceae

Type: Evergreen Tree

Size: 4-6m high

The genus Meryta contains about 25 species, most of which are found in New Caledonia. Meryta sinclairii is New Zealand's representative.

The leaves of this grand tropical-looking tree are glossy green and large, being 25-50 cm long and half as wide again. The tree grows into a rounded shape and will branch if encouraged.

Heavily veined, the leaves are quite leathery and wavy on the edges. A few weeks before shedding, the leaves turn rich yellow and are quite attractive.

The flowers, produced mid-winter, are very small and green. These are followed (on female plants only) by 12mm long black, shiny fruits.

Puka is an impressive specimen tree for any garden, especially native or tropical settings. It looks great in patio pots too, but ensure that it does not become too root-bound.

There is an extremely attractive variegated form, Meryta sinclairii 'Moonlight', which is cream and yellow with green margins. However, it is not readily available, and although highly sought after, it is expensive and disease prone.

Plant the puka in full sun to partial shade with deep, well-drained but moist soil. If planted in partial shade, the puka will generally be taller than if planted in full sun, as stems will shoot up until leaves are in sunlight before filling out.

Puka is quite hardy in that it can withstand strong winds and salt, making it ideal for coastal areas. However, the tree does not enjoy heavy frosts.

Encourage branching of the tree by pinching out the growing tips. Ensure pruning is done in spring when the sap is rising.

It is not difficult to propagate by seed in spring when the seed is ripe. Cover with glass and sow in a box at least 18mm deep. Cuttings can be taken, too, but these are difficult to grow.

Pukas are susceptible to black spot in humid conditions, and phytophthora (root rot) in wet soil conditions. Both should be treated with a systemic fungicide.

Reproduced with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous website of  TVNZ News

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: June 27, 2007