Podocarps: Plants That Heal

Here is a profile of fascinating facts about three of ZEALANDIA’s podocarp or Southern Hemisphere conifer trees. You’ll spot them when you wander along ZEALANDIA’s many tracks. These three podocarps are: totāra (Podocarpus totara), rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), and kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides).

Totara fruit ripening 3a AB 5-05
Totāra Fruiting. Photo Credit: Allison Buchan

Totāra can be found in many New Zealand lowland and mountain forests and may grow up to 25 metres. It has very durable and straight-grained timber, so it was and still is highly prized for building. Pre-European Māori used totāra for all kinds of waka (canoe) and whare (houses), for example, enormous waka-taua (war canoes) and whare whakairo (guesthouses) with elaborate carving. The bark was used for roofing, and also to make kete (baskets) to store preserved hua rākau (fruit) and manu (birds). At ZEALANDIA, you can spot totāra on the Jim & Eve Lynch Track and from the top of the eastern end of the top dam. Totāra is a plant that helps heal grieving people with the condolence that: ‘Kua hinga te totāra i te wao nui-a-tāne (A totāra has fallen in the great forest of Tāne).’

Rimu foliage juvenile 7-06 AB D16F3663
Rimu. Photo Credit Alison Buchan

Rimu can grow up to 50 metres. When Captain Cook discovered Aotearoa/New Zealand in 1769, he also found he could use rimu’s young, slender, drooping branches for spruce beer to prevent scurvy. Rimu is another ZEALANDIA’s plant that heals and a juvenile rimu about 3–4 metres high is growing on the Te Mahanga Track by the Nestbox Display.

Kahikatea can grow up to 60 metres and is New Zealand’s tallest native tree. Kahikatea has small, bright red berries, which are invaluable as bird food for ZEALANDIA’s many native birds, such as tīeke (saddleback) and pōpokatea (whiteheads). Kahikatea is yet another of ZEALANDIA’s plants that heals, as its fruit was eaten raw by Māori and would have provided them with vitamins. A 3 metre high kahikatea can be seen on the right of the track leading up from the Takahē Lawn to the toilet block.

Pinus radiata above Lake Rd 5-7-08 AB D44F8526
Pinus Radiata. Photo Credit: Allison Buchan

Removing exotics trees such as Pinus radiata and replacing them with native trees is part of the 500 year vision to restore our ecosystem and return birdsong to ZEALANDIA — it takes that long for these trees to reach maturity. These native trees attract and support native birds, such as toutouwai (North Island robins), kākā, and kākāriki. Although included in Wellington City Council’s Outer Green Belt, ZEALANDIA has its own management plan to be an attraction, a conservation entity and a generator of birds within the safety of ZEALANDIA’s pest-proof fence. One aim of being part of The Outer Green Belt is that there are opportunities for ZEALANDIA to work in close co-operation with the Wellington City Council “Over The Fence” with pest control. Pest weeds and plants that hurt are replaced by native plants that heal our endangered ecosystem.

Written by Rosemary Cole, Sanctuary Storyteller, with thanks to and in collaboration with Chris Moore, ZEALANDIA Volunteer/ Guide.

Reference: ‘The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees and Shrubs’ by L.J. Metcalf, A.H & A.W. Reed, 1975

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