8 things you may not know about to–tara
• ‘To’ means stem or stalk; ‘tara’ means spiky or sharp.
• Tōtara was the first New Zealand plant to have its Māori name formally adopted as the species name.
• Tōtara are conifers. In the rest of the world these are mostly short trees, but in NZ we have the most enormous and unique conifers found on Earth, including tōtara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro.
• Tōtara was the important tree to Māori in their everyday life, with the wood used in carvings, and the bark shaped into storage containers (patua and pōhā) for preserving food.
• Nearly all of the most treasured carvings in New Zealand are made from tōtara.
• Māori earmarked trees 200-300 years ahead of time as potential waka. Bark would be removed along one side to stop the core of the tree growing. Edges would continue to grow, leaving a hollowed-out tree centuries later that could then be worked into a waka.
• It can take a couple of years for a seed to get to a few centimetres in height in a forest situation; the average adult tōtara is 20-25m high.
• Old tōtara posts and stumps are having their heartwood harvested for a compound called totarol which has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and is the reason why the wood is resistant to rotting. •