Totara – Podocarpus totara
Other Names: Lowland Tōtara, Rakau Rangatira ("chiefly tree").
Distinctive Characteristics: The trunk on these evergreen trees is thick, gnarly, and slightly buttressed at the base. The bark is reddish to brown to silver, thick, furrowed, and long-plated. The seeds grow on top of an edible red fruit.
Distribution: Native to and widely distributed throughout the North Island and northeastern South Island of New Zealand. Elevation: up to 2,000 ft. (600 m).
Ecosystem: Lowland, montane, and lower subalpine forests with Mataī and Kahikatea trees.
Maximum Age: Over 1,000 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: At least 167 ft. (51 m) in height; at least 35 ft. (10 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: Birds including the Tūī, kereru, yellow-crowned parakeets, weka, and bellbirds eat the seeds and fruit. Insects include six native moths, prickly stick insect, and longhorn beetle, as well as insects who are Tōtara specialists: gall mite, gall midge, thrip, mirid, and aphid. Invasive possums can heavily browse the tree.
Medicine: The smoke from burning wood and the boiled bark were both used medicinally for hemorrhoids and venereal disease. An infusion of the leaves was taken for upset stomach. The inner bark was boiled to treat fevers (Maori).
Food: The red fruit was a favorite food (Maori).
Tools and Objects: Wood was used for carving bowls; branch wood was used for axe handles and beaters weapons, musical instruments, and toys; sheets of inner bark were used as water containers; wood was used as splints to support fractured bones; sticks were used for producing fire by friction (Maori).
Art and Ceremony: The wood was prized for large ceremonial carvings (Maori).
Transportation: It was the primary wood used to make war canoes, called waka, due to its length, relatively light weight, straightness and rot resistance. A single log would be hollowed out, some capable of carrying 100 warriors, and took at least a year to make using stone adzes (Maori).
Modern Uses: Bridge and wharf building, fence posts, floor pilings, railroad ties. The chemical compound in the tree, Totarol, is antibacterial and anti-microbial, and is currently being used in natural medicines and cosmetics. The bark has been used to make home made dye for wool.
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.