Botanical name: Podocarpus totara

Maori name: Tōtara

Habitat: The tōtara is native to New Zealand and can be found in the North and South Island. It is very hardy and will grow almost anywhere.

Appearance: A mature tōtara tree can reach up to 30 metres, and can live for hundreds of years. The leaves are 2.5 cm long, narrow at both ends and are dull brownish-green colour. They are stiff and prickly to touch. Totara has distinctive bark, which flakes off in thick brown slabs. The male trees produce cones and the female trees have red berries that birds like the tui like to eat.



Use: Tōtara wood is very strong and was often used for fence posts, floor pilings and railway sleepers. Māori used it for carving and to make wakas because it is light and doesn’t easily rot.



  • What part of the tōtara tree do birds like to eat?
  • Do you know the Māori legend of the tōtara tree?
  • Why is the tōtara tree important to PCS?


More information can be found here:


We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Alysha and Zubair to this research.





The Totara in Maori Legend

Rata and the Tree

Rata was in the forest wandering about wondering what to do about retrieving the body of his father who had recently died when he decided he would chop down a tree and build a waka.

He selected a Totara, felled it, and went home planning to return in the morning to begin building the waka. When he did return he found the tree wasnt lying on the ground as he’d left it but standing as if it had never been felled.

He chopped the tree down again this time trimming the trunk and removing the bark and and went home with the same result when he returned the next day.

He chopped the tree down a third time, this time trimming and shaping the tree and scooping out the inside and decided to sneak back during the night to see what was happening

When he approached the tree in the dark he saw to his amazement that birds and insects were reassembling the tree to return it to its original state.

Rata apologised for chopping down the Totara and explained why he was doing so (to retrieve his Father), then offered to help lift the Totara back into place.

When dawn came Rata was ll alone, the little creatures had gone, and the Totara was back in its original state. Rata vowed to never chop down another tree, and a voice near him told him that he may, but he must ask permission from Tane Mahuta first.

As Rata returned home he came across a mighty war canoe sitting on logs in the forest, and he asked if it was his, and the voice said “yes, Rata’s waka”