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Pittosporum crassifolium - Banks.&Sol. ex A.Cunn.

Common Name Karo, Stiffleaf cheesewood
Family Pittosporaceae
USDA hardiness 8-11
Known Hazards This plant contains saponins[153]. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans, and although they are fairly toxic to people they are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down if the food is thoroughly cooked for a long time. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K].
Habitats Forest margins and by streams on North and Kermadec Islands[44].
Range New Zealand. Naturalized in Britain in the Scilly Isles[17].
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Pittosporum crassifolium Karo, Stiffleaf cheesewood

Pittosporum crassifolium Karo, Stiffleaf cheesewood


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Pittosporum crassifolium is an evergreen Shrub growing to 5 m (16ft) by 3 m (9ft).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 9. It is in leaf all year, in flower in May. The species is monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant). The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Hedge;

Edible Uses

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Hedge  Hedge  Soap  Soil stabilization  Wood

A dark blue dye is obtained from the seeds[169]. The plant is a potential source of saponins. Saponins can be used to as a soap and, because of their bitter taste, they also have potential as a bird deterrent by spraying them over the plants. The bitterness can be easily removed by washing (or by the next rainfall!). Very tolerant of pruning and maritime exposure, this plant can be grown as a protective hedge by the coast in mild maritime areas[11, 29, 49, 75]. The plant has an extensive root system and can be used for binding sandy soils, dunes etc[153]. Wood - very tough. Used for inlay[46, 61].

Special Uses

Hedge  Hedge  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Succeeds in any well-drained soil[182, 200], including dry soils, preferably in a sunny position[182] but also succeeding in light shade[200]. Plants are very resistant to maritime exposure[11, 29, 75, 200]. This species is not very cold-hardy in Britain, succeeding outdoors only in the milder areas of the country[11]. Plants grow very well on the Scilly Isles but have not been proved on the mainland[29].Other reports say that it grows well in south-western England[11, 49]. Very amenable to pruning, plants can be cut right back into old wood if required[200]. The flowers are sweetly scented, they are borne in terminal clusters of either up to 10 males or up to 5 females[219]. Plants only flower freely in mild areas of the country[219]. The species in this genus are very likely to hybridize with other members of the genus[200]. When growing a species from seed it is important to ensure that the seed either comes from a known wild source, or from isolated specimens in cultivation. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow when ripe in the autumn or in late winter in a warm greenhouse[78, 200]. The seed usually germinates freely. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle, move the plants to a cold frame as soon as they are established and plant out late in the following spring[78]. Consider giving them some protection from the cold during their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 7cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Poor to fair percentage[78]. Basal ripewood cuttings late autumn in a cold frame[200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Pittosporum tobiraTobira, Japanese cheesewood, Australian Laurel, Mock Orange, Japanese PittosporumShrub6.0 8-11 FLMSNDM003
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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Expert comment


Banks.&Sol. ex A.Cunn.

Botanical References


Links / References

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Readers comment

david nicholls   Wed Feb 14 07:28:48 2001

Pittosporum crassifolium I'm very fond of this plant as it is very tough in my high wind area & have spend a bit of time trying to find uses for it

I've tried shaking the leaves in a jar of water, some bubbles as would be expected of saponins but only about one tenth as much as Aloe saporana or Pomaderris, a nice lemony smell though. Stock don't care about the saponins and eat it, hares too.

I've used the unripe seeds as an ink, nice purple colour, faded to brown after a few months.

The wood is supposed to be difficult of combustion (L.H.Bailey standard cyclpaedea of horticulture (a beautiful book from 1947). I find a little odd that I've only ever seen international references to the timbre use of P. crassifolium, none here in N.Z. perhaps I've been looking in wrong places, the national obsession with Pinus radiata and attitude that using natives for anything at all is anti-conservation (even if planted rather than taken from the wild which is silly) may have more to do with it.

The roots contain an acetylenic alcohol & ketone.(N.Z medicinal plants, Cooper, cabie, Brooker) Whatever they are.

Cheers, hope things are going well david

David N   Tue Aug 27 06:33:35 2002

Pittosporum crassifolium nectar is quite tasty strait from the flower, much better than New Zealand flax nectar which was used by the Maori and still today by some people but which I find usually tainted with a bitter flavor as well as sweetness. I break the bottom off the small purple flower and suck, the amount is tiny but it is very nice. Have never heard of anyone else doing this,

I tried it after reading in Cheddar Valley Nurseries catalogue that Pittosporums are good nectar sources for bees and have since seen them on P.crassifolium.

I expect the nectar is safe since it is recommended for beekeepers but cant guarantee it.

Not a stunning use but not bad for something so coastal tol.

David Nicholls   Mon Oct 27 2008

For some reason I've always wanted this versitile plant to be edible. Although it has no edible parts there is a stink bug (Pittosprum sheild bug- Monteithiella humeralis) that specializes in eating the unripe fruit of this plant(in New Zealand at least). Many stink bugs are highly esteemed as food in various parts of the world, I can't find any record of this one being eaten, but it is dull, not brightly colored( which indicates poison). The bug is originally from Australia, the Aborgines surely would have known if it was of any use. (Ref: 'Which New Zealand Insect?'by Andrew Crowe).

   Nov 26 2014 12:00AM

Following the example of the stink bugs in above comment I've eaten small amounts of the unripe fruit of P.crassifolium from time to time with no noticeable ill effect, all parts are a little firm but basically easy to eat, a mild resinous flavor. That doesn't mean they're safe to eat in quantity, can't find anything about chemistry of seeds, the leaves contain saponin which is destroyed by heat, there's no reports of poisoning by Pittosporums in The Poisonous Plants of New Zealand (Conner) . I also tried boiling them, they then look like a green olive, the whole thing becomes very soft & can easily be eaten including immature seeds. The flavor & consistency improves, resembling a potato with a distinctive resinous hint, interesting, not really bad. Perhaps it deserves investigation for toxicity. David Nicholls

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