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Tree Botanics

Totara Previous

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Other Names: (Podocarpus totara)

One of the largest trees in the forest, member of the Podocarpaceae family, theTotara can reach heights of up to 30m with a trunk diameter in excess of 2m, the largest specimens up to and exceeding 3m.  Younger trees exhibit densely bushy crowns, but the canopy becomes more open as the tree ages. The bark is thick and fibrous, often deeply furrowed and string-like/peeling off in strips & a key identifying feature. Totara is common in lowland, mountain & subalpine forests throughout New Zealand.  At higher altitudes its place is taken by its relative the Hall's Totara (Podocarpus hallii). Leaves vary in colour from a dull brownish-green (on juveniles) to a deep dark green and are typically 1.5 - 3mm long X 3 - 4mm wide lacking hairs.  They can be straight ranging through to slightly curved and pointed. The totara is dioecious (having male and female flowers on different plants).  The male flower forms as a yellow-green catkin up to 1.5cm long, the female, as solitary or a pair at the top of a peduncle (the stalk of an inflorescence or a stalk bearing a solitary flower in a one-flowered inflorescence).  Both are axillary (forming in the angle between the leaf and its stem) and appear between September - October.  The stroboli (typical within the Podocarpaceae family; a conelike structure, such as a pine cone, the fruit of the hop, or a cone of a club moss, that consists of overlapping sporophylls (a leaf in ferns and other spore-bearing plants that bears the sporangia/spore case),spirally arranged along a central axis are up to 2cm long appearing singly or in groups of four.  The nut-like seeds (green when ripe) are produced from the tip of a red or orange swollen and succulent receptacle (the expanded tip of a flower stalk or axis that bears the floral organs or the group of flowers in a head). As a timber totara is light in weight, not liable to twist, easily worked and extremely durable.  As a result it serves many uses amongst them; poles, posts, bridging, window & door frames.  Its timber was prized by Maori as being the best for fashioning their massive war canoes and also the main timber used for carving.  Ancient Maori custom demanded that when a young totara tree was felled for timber, a seedling must be planted to appease Tane, the God of the forest.