Tōtara

Podocarpus totara

Evergreen, endemic to New Zealand.

Māori also knew tōtara as rākau rangitira – ‘chiefly trees.’ This is because the timber has been prized as the best for building large waka (canoes), or carvings of ancestors at marae (Māori meeting houses).

Sheets of the inner bark were ingeniously folded, like origami, to make water containers or splints for broken limbs.

In te reo Māori, ‘tō’ means to drag, and ‘tara’ is a spike. This refers to the rubbing of hard tōtara sticks in a channel of a softer wood (such as māhoe), to make fire.

Tōtara are very hardy trees and can tolerate wet and dry conditions, and living in windy places.