From the Arabic sophera, referring to a tree with pea-shaped flowers.
Deciduous or evergreen trees, shrubs and woody herbs. Leaves alternate, pinnate with a terminal leaflet. Leaflets opposite; stipules small, mostly linear, papery. Flowers terminal, branched, white, yellow or blue-violet. Stamens 10, free. Fruit pod 4-winged, often bead-like, with few-many seeds.
Grown for the attractive foliage and flowers. S. toromiro (Philippi) Skottsb. from Easter Island had natural populations reduced to 1 plant by 1917 and became extinct due to grazing in 1962. However, seed collected by Thor Heyerdahl (well known through the Kon-Tiki expedition) was sent to the Gothenburg Bot. Gds, Sweden, in 1955-6 and in the 1970s seed was distributed around the world, including to the Royal Bot. Gds, Melbourne, where several plants derived from the original seed stock remain (for background history to this extinct species see Mackinder &Staniforth, 1997). S. prostrata Buchan. from New Zealand is a shrub forming a tough, dense hummock. Leaves to 2.5 cm long, pinnate. Leaflets up to 8 pairs, each leaflet to 4 mm long, oblong. Flowers 1-3 on silky-hairy stalks, orange to brownish yellow or bright yellow; late spring. Fruit pods mostly to 3 cm long, hairy at first, containing up to 5 narrowly winged seeds. Sometimes available as 'Little Baby', said to be a dwarf form but probably not different from the species.
45 tropical and northern temperate species.
Seed. Semi-hardwood cuttings of semi-evergreens and some cultivars. Some cultivars are also produced by air layering or grafting.
Some species are the source of yellow dyes; in Asia the dried flowers have medicinal uses; species in New Zealand are used for timber.
Leaves with more than 5 leaflets; stamens free; seed pods constricted between the seeds, bead-like.
Source: (2002). Fabaceae. In: . Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 3. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Part 2. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.