Once the dominant tree in swamp forest, its straight trunk adapted to swampy living with ‘buttress’ roots to provide stability.
It's New Zealand’s tallest indigenous tree – kahikatea can grow up to 50m tall.
Kahikatea produces delicious orange-red berries, but they need to be harvested from the very high branches. Historically, thiscalled for expert tree climbers (and led to a few fatalities).
For Māori, the kahikatea had many uses. The fleshy aril orkoroīwas an important food resource and was served at feasts in greatamounts. Soot obtained from burning the heartwood supplied a pigment for traditional tattooing (tāmoko). The wood was alsofavoured for making bird spears.
Medicinally, kahikatea wood infused in water was used as a tonic for stomach complaints and bladder problems, bark can bechewed to numb the mouth, and resin has a bitter-sweet taste that was used for chewing gum.
While it has a tall straight trunk, the wood was not as useful as European settlers expected when they began trading with Māoriand exporting the logs — because it rots easily in water. Māori preferred to work with the heartwood.
Askahikiteagrew prominently on flat, fertile land, this meant that it got in the way of European farming and settlement. Thesolution for an expanding dairy industry was to mill the kahikatea and turn it into boxes for butter, as the pale, odourless wooddidn’t taint the butter on its refrigerated journey to the United Kingdom.