Northern Rātā – Metrosideros robusta
Other Names: Rata, Rakapika
Distinctive Characteristics: The evergreen Northern Rātā often begins life as an epiphyte started from a windblown seed; over hundreds of years, it sends down vine-like roots to the ground, which fuse together. The host dies (or some say it is killed) and the Rātā is left hollow. The grain of the wood is therefore twisted and gnarled. The Southern Rātā grows like a regular tree, and not to as great a height. They have masses of bristly flowers that range from dark orange to red to dark red. As the Latin species name robusta implies, it is sturdy, hard, and durable, as a tree and as timber. The genus name Metrosideros means "iron-hearted."
Distribution: Native to both the North and South Islands of New Zealand; from Te Paki to Wellington on the North Island, and from Nelson to Greymouth and Hokitika on the South Island. Elevation: up to 3,000 ft. (900 m).
Ecosystem: In the lowlands up to montane forests and along the coasts, often associated with such tree species as Rimu, Rewarewa, Tawa, Hīnau, Kānuka, Kahikatea, Kāmahi, Kohekohe, Pukatea, and Māhoe.
Maximum Age: Estimated to 1,000 years old.
Maximum Height and Girth: 141 ft. (43 m) in height; 40 ft. (12 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: Short-tailed bats, lizards, bees, as well such as birds as tūi, bellbirds, stichbirds, silvereyes, kākā, kea, and kākāpō drink the nectar. Kākāriki birds eat the flowers and buds. Native stick insects, the common forest looper, and the moth caterpillar eat the leaves. Introduced species, such as goats and deer, will eat young trees, while brushtail possums can destroy it.
Medicine: The nectar was used as a remedy for sore throats. An infusion of inner bark was used as a remedy for diarrhea. The bark was boiled and taken internally to treat colds, as well as being used externally as an astringent to treat ringworm, pains, bruises, and wounds. Young leaves were chewed for toothaches (Maori).
Food: The nectar was eaten (Maori).
Tools and Objects: The wood was made into weapons, paddles, and mauls (Maori).
Art and Ceremony: The wood was made into flutes.
Modern Uses: Its hardness, strength, and durability later made it useful for ship and bridge construction, machine bearings, cartwheels, carving-chisel handles, telephone pole cross-arms, and woodturning. The outer bark has been used for tanning leather. The bark can be made into a dye for wool.
Threats and Conservation: The invasive brushtail possums love to eat the Rātā to death. They are also threatened by forest clearing, cutting for firewood, and hybridization with the Pōhutukawa tree. However, its status is not considered threatened.