The best plants for…

a coastal forest garden

Planted boundary

Coastal forest conditions:

  • High light levels
  • Strong coastal winds
  • Salt spray
  • Sheltered areas available
  • Lush, almost tropical-feeling

If you live beside the shore, take a look at our advice for coastal dune gardens.

Plant shelter-giving species first

For exposed areas you’ll need to grow hardy, shelter-forming plants to create a ‘nursery’ for other species. These 'pioneer' species (marked below) will survive best if they are naturally adapted to the conditions and eco-sourced.

Once nursery plants such as ngaio and taupata have established shade and shelter, you can introduce secondary plants such as kohekohe and tawa to increase diversity.

The Wellington coastal forest theme

The iconic tree fern species are a very popular choice with gardeners, as are nikau palms. Lush kohekohe, together with thick ferns and orange-fruiting native passionfruit gives the Wellington coastal forest an almost tropical feel. The hyacinth-like scent of flowering hangehange, the poplar-shaped rewarewa with long serrated leaves and the papery texture of tree fuchsia makes these forests really stand out.

The lime green or yellowish lemonwood and wharangi are seen as bright green patches in the forest scene. 

A special understory is found under the kohekohe and tawa canopy on the sometimes dry or moist soil of coastal bays and gullies. Kawakawa is amongst the more common species mixed with hangehange and some coprosma species such as C.rhamnoides. Kawakawa is a great medicinal plant and provides sweet fruit for birds and sometimes humans.

Many woody vine species like supplejack are less familiar to gardeners, but are interesting species to use in moist, sheltered sites. Supplejack’s red berries add colour and attract fruit-eating birds such as kereru. Other species include native passion fruit, bush lawyer and two species of native jasmine.

The bird-edible berries of mahoe, fivefinger, and dianella add contrast and enrich forest garden environments. 

Dark leaved or stemmed plants such as poroporo and pigeonwood will create further contrast against an otherwise green cloak. With its golden and purple fruit poroporo provides enrichment that offers a feast for all wildlife from birds to butterflies.

A number of delightfully fragrant coastal forest trees have inconspicuous but aromatic flowers that make ideal garden plants. Hangehange, marble leaf (putaputaweta), pigeonwood, mahoe and some of our epiphytic orchids have truly enchanting scents.

Nikau, rewarewa and broadleaf Griselina are salt tolerant species. In moist soil, species such as ngaio, kohekohe, mahoe and titoki can thrive. These together with nikau, rewarewa and broadleaf Griselina are all salt spray tolerant species. Plant in groups if possible for the best results. It is species like these, tolerant of having exposed root systems in fragmented rock slopes, that do best.

Miramar Heights & Maupuia: coastal forest zone

Trees

Big (b) >15m, Medium (m) 10-15m, Small (s) <10m

  • Akiraho / Olearia paniculata , (s) Pioneer
    An excellent small tree or shrub, akiraho is a costal tree daisy useful for shelter or nursery. Leaves…
  • Black maire / Nestegis cunninghamii , (b)
    A once common species, the handsome black maire should to be more widely grown as it makes an…
  • Broadleaf / Griselinia littoralis, G. lucida , (m)
    Probably one of our most planted natives. There are two species of the broadleaf griselinia in New Zealand.…
  • Cabbage tree / Cordyline australis , (m) Pioneer
    Early European explorers of New Zealand described "jungles of cabbage trees" along the banks of streams and rivers,…
  • Coastal kowhai / Sophora chathamica , (s)
  • Coastal tree dasiy / Olearia solandri , (s) Pioneer
    Perfect for a coastal garden! Named after the Swedish naturalist Daniel Carlsson Solander and an apostle of Carl…
  • Coprosma grandifolia / Coprosma grandifolia , (s)
    Easily recognized by its very large, broad laves hence the name scientific name C grandiflora. Usually regarded as…
  • Five-finger / Pseudopanax arboreus , (m) Pioneer
    A fast growing small tree well known for its luxuriant growth and purple fruit in large obvious clusters from…
  • Hangehange / Geniostoma ligustrifolium , (s)
    Well known for its sweet fragrance during flowering in late spring from small green white flowers. Hangehange is…
  • Hinau / Elaeocarpus dentatus , (b)
    A grand canopy tree up to 15-20 metres tall or less, with a broad spreading crown and broad grey…
  • Horopito / Pseudowintera axillaris , (s)
    Horopito belongs to of the most primitive families of the flowering plants and endemic to New Zealand. Lowland…
  • Kahikatea / Dacrycarpus dacrydioides , (b)
    A very popular garden tree. Handsome, tall and erect, the kahikatea is one of New Zealands tallest trees.…
  • Kaikomako / Pennantia corymbosa , (s)
    Meaning "Food for the korimako" the bellbird, this small attractive tree starts as a juvenile dense tangled shrub…
  • Kanuka / Kunzea sp. , (b) Pioneer
    The common kanuka, not yet botanically named is very similar to the more shortlived manuka. Earlier placed together…
  • Karamu / Coprosma robusta , (s) Pioneer
    One of our best known coprosma species and also one of the best species for establising shelter or…
  • Kawakawa / Macropiper excelsum , (s) Pioneer
    Probably one of our most well known plants. Big heart shapes fleshy leaves and fruit favourited by many…
  • Kohekohe / Dysoxylum spectabile , (m)
    Kohekohe is one of the most handsome of our coastal trees that was once very common. Easy to…
  • Koromiko / Hebe stricta , (s) Pioneer
    A common bushy shrub with narrow pointed leaves up to 4 meters tall, but often less. Its white…
  • Lancewood / Pseudopanax crassifolius , (m) Pioneer
    lancewood is one of the oddities in New Zealand’s forest. The explanation to its oddities can be explained…
  • Large leaved milk tree / Streblus banksii , (m)
    Once widespread, today regarded as relicts. This "At Risk" species is a fast growing, with a rounded crown…
  • Leucopogon / Leucopogon fasciculatus , (s) Pioneer
    A sometimes tall shrub up to 5 metre, however often musch shorter. With small softe neddle light green…
  • Mahoe / Melicytus ramiflorus , (s) Pioneer
    Mahoe is an attractive tree growing up to 10 metres high with a wide sometimes intertwined and hollow…
  • Makomako / Aristotelia serrata , (s) Pioneer
    A multi branched fast growing tree with thin, heart-shaped serrated leaves. The leaves have light green upper surface,…
  • Mamaku / Cyathea medullaris , (b) Pioneer
    Our tallest and one of our most luxuriant tree ferns with a slender, long black trunk covered with…
  • Manuka / Leptospermum scoparium , (m)
    Manuka is probably the best known New Zealand tree due to all its different uses. From honey to…
  • Mapou / Myrsine australis , (s) Pioneer
    A handsome small tree with bright red twigs and grey trunk and branches in older individuals, bearing wavy…
  • Matai / Prumnopitys taxifolia , (b)
    A very popular garden tree due to its divaricating juvenile growth, a potential moa browsing defense. This stage…
  • Mikimiki / Coprosma linariifolia , (s)
     A tall shrub or small tree up to 8 metre. Coprosma linarifolia has very modest flowers and long…
  • Miro / Prumnopitys ferruginea , (b)
    A very beautiful tree which should be more widely grown. Miro grows up to 25 metres tall with…
  • Ngaio / Myoporum laetum , (s) Pioneer
    A beautiful, fast growing coastal tree, with a rough, furrowed grey trunk, often in old age becoming, gnarled…
  • Nikau / Rhopalostylis sapida , (s)
    New Zealands only native palm and one of our best known iconic species. This attractive palm, should be…
  • Northern rata / Metrosideros robusta , (b)
    Once the co-dominant emergent tree of a distinctive vegetation type called rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum)/rata forest. today over most…
  • Pate / Schefflera digitata , (s)
    Patē or also known as sevenfinger, resembles the psudopanax species five-finger, but it has thinner leaves consisting of…
  • Pigeonwood / Hedycarya arborea , (s)
    An attractive small tree with a dark brown or grey and smooth bark, growing between 5 to 12…
  • Pukatea / Laurelia novae-zelandiae , (b)
  • Putaputaweta / Carpodeus serratus , (s)
  • Rewarewa / Knightia excelsa , (b)
    Attractive and ornamental, rewarewa is one of our iconic trees to New Zealand. In the family of Proteaceae, rewarewa…
  • Swamp maire / Syzygium maire , (m)
    An attractive tree now often scarce or absent over large parts of its former range due to the…
  • Tarata / Pittosporum eugenioides , (m) Pioneer
    This attractive and well known tree is well marked from all other indigenous and exotic Pittosporums, by the…
  • Taupata / Coprosma repens , (s) Pioneer
    A distinctive, common coastal species easily recognised by the very glossy, dark or lime green, broadly oblong to…
  • Tawa / Beilschmiedia tawa , (b)
    In windy conditions and with sun is shining this tree is a forest garden splendour as the leaves…
  • Titoki / Alectryon excelsus , (m)
    An attractive tree with a smooth grey to almost sometimes black slender trunk and a broad crown. Most…
  • Tree fuchsia / Fuchsia excorticata , (m)
    The worlds largest fuchsia! Great for attracting nectar-feeding birds like tui and bellbird, while fruit attracts birds like…
  • Tree hebe / Veronica parviflora , (s) Pioneer
    A large hebe, up to 6 metre, worth growing for its green foliage and open habit with prolific…
  • Tutu / Coriaria arborea , (s)
    Tutu is a many-stemmed shrub or small tree where all parts of the plant, with the exception of…
  • Tōtara / Podocarpus totara , (b)
    A grand and attractive tree, totara used to be one of the dominant native pine species on Miramar…
  • Wharangi / Melicope ternata , (s) Pioneer
    A stunningly lime green small coastal tree, growing up to 5 metre tall. The two species of Melicope…
  • White maire / Nestegis lanceolata , (b)
    White maire deserves to be more widely grown as it makes an excellent specimen or street tree and…

Shrubs

  • Akiraho / Olearia paniculata , (s) Pioneer
    An excellent small tree or shrub, akiraho is a costal tree daisy useful for shelter or nursery. Leaves…
  • Broadleaf / Griselinia littoralis, G. lucida , (m)
    Probably one of our most planted natives. There are two species of the broadleaf griselinia in New Zealand.…
  • Coastal tree dasiy / Olearia solandri , (s) Pioneer
    Perfect for a coastal garden! Named after the Swedish naturalist Daniel Carlsson Solander and an apostle of Carl…
  • Cook Strait kowhai / Sophora molloyi , (s) Pioneer
    With its current conservation status, At Risk - Naturally Uncommon, the Cook Strait Kowhai is only found around…
  • Coprosma crassifolia / Coprosma crassifolia , (s) Pioneer
    An excellent coastal plant providing a tough shelter and great for dry, rocky and expsoed locations. Providing good food…
  • Coprosma grandifolia / Coprosma grandifolia , (s)
    Easily recognized by its very large, broad laves hence the name scientific name C grandiflora. Usually regarded as…
  • Coprosma rhamnoides / Coprosma rhamnoides , (s) Pioneer
    A small attractive dense tightly divaricating shrub with gorgeous ruby red looking fruit. Growing up to 1,5 metre…
  • Hebe elliptica / Hebe elliptica var. crassifolia
  • Horopito / Pseudowintera axillaris , (s)
    Horopito belongs to of the most primitive families of the flowering plants and endemic to New Zealand. Lowland…
  • Karamu / Coprosma robusta , (s) Pioneer
    One of our best known coprosma species and also one of the best species for establising shelter or…
  • Kawakawa / Macropiper excelsum , (s) Pioneer
    Probably one of our most well known plants. Big heart shapes fleshy leaves and fruit favourited by many…
  • Koromiko / Hebe stricta , (s) Pioneer
    A common bushy shrub with narrow pointed leaves up to 4 meters tall, but often less. Its white…
  • Leucopogon / Leucopogon fasciculatus , (s) Pioneer
    A sometimes tall shrub up to 5 metre, however often musch shorter. With small softe neddle light green…
  • Manuka / Leptospermum scoparium , (m)
    Manuka is probably the best known New Zealand tree due to all its different uses. From honey to…
  • Melicytus obovatus / Melicytus obovatus , (s) Pioneer
    The notable Melicytus obovatus is an endemic evergreen plant to Wellington and Cook strait regarded as; At Risk…
  • Mikimiki / Coprosma linariifolia , (s)
     A tall shrub or small tree up to 8 metre. Coprosma linarifolia has very modest flowers and long…
  • Mingimingi / Coprosma propinqua , (s) Pioneer
    A great small leaved divaricating bushy shrub for open exposed seaside propertys and coastal forest gardens with dense…
  • Poroporo / Solanum laciniatum, S. aviculare , (s) Pioneer
    Commonly regarded as a weed, and offten confused with the now much less common and "At Risk" species…
  • Sand comprosma / Coprosma acerosa
  • Sand daphne / Pimelea arenaria
  • Shrubby tororaro / Muehlenbeckia astonii Pioneer
    With small bright green heart shaped leaves and with tangled zig-zagging branches this rare shrub makes an interesting…
  • Taupata / Coprosma repens , (s) Pioneer
    A distinctive, common coastal species easily recognised by the very glossy, dark or lime green, broadly oblong to…
  • Thick-leaved mahoe / Melicytus crassifolius , (s) Pioneer
    An attractive dark green compact hardy shrub with grey speckled branches. This endemic species has a somewhat restricted…
  • Tree hebe / Veronica parviflora , (s) Pioneer
    A large hebe, up to 6 metre, worth growing for its green foliage and open habit with prolific…
  • Tutu / Coriaria arborea , (s)
    Tutu is a many-stemmed shrub or small tree where all parts of the plant, with the exception of…
  • White rata / Metrosideros perforata
    The White rata or Akatorotoro as its is also commonly known as is a climber growing up 15 m high…

Climbers & scramblers

  • Bush lawyer / Rubus australis, R. cissoides Pioneer
    A vigorous and prickly vine, so strong that it could possibly hold the large moa, which the maori…
  • Clematis foetida / Clematis foetida Pioneer
  • Climbing rata / Metrosideros fulgens
    Climbing plants such as the noble climbing rata creates a forest feeling. A scrambling and clinging habit with…
  • Forster’s Clematis / Clematis forsteri
    Variable evergreen woody climber; stems to 5 m long, however more often in a compacted clump of vines.…
  • Native passionfruit / Passiflora tetrandra
    Climbing plants such as native passionfruit can create a forest feeling and add flowers and scent too. Our native passion…
  • NZ jasmine / Parsonsia heterophylla, P. capsularis
    Climbing plants such as native jasmin can create a forest feeling and add flowers and scent too.
  • Pohuehue / Muehlenbeckia complexa Pioneer
    One of the best and most attractive coastal groundcover that grows into a tangled mass of brown wiry…
  • Supplejack / Ripogonum scandens
    A weird and wonderful plant, this woody vine might not be to familiar to gardeners, perhaps due to…
  • White clematis / Clematis paniculata
    Probably our most attractive and best known native clematis. With its climbing habit, puawananga can grow to up…
  • White rata / Metrosideros perforata
    The White rata or Akatorotoro as its is also commonly known as is a climber growing up 15 m high…

Ferns

  • Gully fern / Pneumatopteris pennigera
    An attractive fern with long fronds often found growing ins shady areas along streams, ponds and gullies. The…
  • Hen and chicken fern / Asplenium bulbiferum
    One of our most popular native ferns long, green graceful, delicate fronds are easily recognizable by the small "chickens"…
  • Hound’s tongue / Microsorum pustulatum Pioneer
    A beautiful ground covering fern with glossy, bright, green fronds that vary in size and sometimes shape that…
  • Kiokio / Blechnum novae-zelandiae Pioneer
     The beautiful Kiokio is hardy species of fern. They are often be found growing in clay soil, on…
  • Maidenhair fern / Adiantum cunninghamii
    A beautiful small native fern commonly throughout in lowland and coastal forest. Often seen on banks, cliff faces…
  • Mamaku / Cyathea medullaris , (b) Pioneer
    Our tallest and one of our most luxuriant tree ferns with a slender, long black trunk covered with…
  • Necklace fern / Asplenium flabellifolium
    A pretty little fern, easily grown in gardens in sheltered areas. A small and attractive with fronds between…
  • Single crepe fern / Leptopteris hymenophylloides
    A small native fern found though out the country.  Often encountered under forest canopy, especially on damp banks…
  • Soft tree fern / Cyathea smithii , (s)
    The masses of very soft and delicate looking fronds which spread horizontally from the crown and reach 2…
  • Swamp kiokio / Blechnum minus Pioneer
    The beautiful Kiokio is hardy species of fern. Much similar to the larger B. novae-zelandiae. They are often…
  • Sweet fern / Pteris macilenta
    A often coastal endemic to NZ vigorous growing fern, often colonises under decks, dry rockeries, cliff faces or…
  • wheki-ponga / Dicksonia fibrosa , (s)
    Wheki-ponga is a attractive slow growing, very hardy tree fern which will reach up to 10m in height (although…

Grasses, sedges & rushes

  • Astelia / Astelia fragrans, A. solandri
    Astelia is a flax-lookalike. It prefers good drainage and to be kept a bit dry. Often found in forested areas…
  • Carex secta / Carex secta Pioneer
    A large beautiful tussuck forming sedge. Older individuals located in moist to wet soils, often form thick trunk-like…
  • Dianella nigra / Dianella nigra Pioneer
    Bright iridescent blue berries in summer, this small evergreen flax like plant works well in most situations and…
  • Glen Murray tussock / Carex flagellifera Pioneer
    This attractive and hardy evergreen tussock, forms a clump of narrowly linear, reddish-brown leaves, with light brown flower…
  • Hard tussock / Festuca novae-zelandiae
    A hardy tussock forming grass with a stiff. erect habit growing up to 40 cm tall and wide.…
  • Juncus pallidus / Juncus pallidus
    A elegant spiky, robust, tall rush forming dense patches up to 2 metre tall. Dark green and fine…
  • Remuremu / Selliera radicans Pioneer
  • Swamp sedge / Carex virgata Pioneer
    A vigorous handsome bright green tussock 50-100 cm wide for wet parts of the garden or along a…
  • Three square sedge / Schoenoplectus pungens Pioneer
    A long-lived summergreen sedge growing up to 1.5 m tall, most often seen in coastal wetlands, as it…
  • Toetoe / Austroderia toetoe Pioneer
    Previously known as Cortaderia toe toe, this species has recently changed its genus name. This toetoe is confined…

Other plants

  • Astelia / Astelia fragrans, A. solandri
    Astelia is a flax-lookalike. It prefers good drainage and to be kept a bit dry. Often found in forested areas…
  • Collospermum / Collospermum hastatum Pioneer
    The largest and most magnificent of our native epiphytic plants. Often seen on large trees, but can also grow…
  • Dianella nigra / Dianella nigra Pioneer
    Bright iridescent blue berries in summer, this small evergreen flax like plant works well in most situations and…
  • Mountain flax / Phormium cookianum Pioneer
    One of our two iconic flax species. The mountain or costal flax is often found on coastal cliff…
  • Remuremu / Selliera radicans Pioneer
  • Swamp flax / Phormium tenax Pioneer
    A robust and well known plant in gardens with its long sword-shaped leaves up to 2 metre tall…