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The needle-like leaves and stringy bark of the tōtara make it stand out in lowland forests. 

Podocarpus totara
Can grow as high as
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More about this tree

  • Tōtara used to be a dominant tree in lowland and montane forests, but in modern times it's less prevalent. 
  • There are separate male and female tōtara – females produce fruit that takes a year to ripen to a red-coloured fruit which is edible and quite sweet. The male plants have pollen cones which develop in spring.
  • The distinctive red timber has two layers. The outer, sap-wood (called taitea by Māori) is white and soon decays, and near the centre is the taikākā which is harder and resistant to rot. 
  • The two layers of the tōtara are referenced in the whakataukī "Ruia taitea, kia tū ko taikaka anake (shake off the sap-wood and let the heart-wood only stand). 
  • Māori used tōtara when crafting waka, building and carving, and it is still used as a preferred carving timber. 
  • European settlers continued to use it for building purposes (houses, bridges, fences) when they arrived in New Zealand.
  • Smoke from the wood was used to treat skin conditions, and inner bark boiled with mānuka was used as a tonic to reduce fever.
  • Tōtara leaves were infused and used by bushmen to cure stomach troubles.