The totara tree (Podocarpus totara) is a tall, slow-growing conifer native to New Zealand. Totara trees grow throughout New Zealand’s North Island, the Stewart Island and the northeastern region of the South Island. Totaras thrive around river flats and sub-alpine forest elevations.
Totara trees have short, pointy, dark-green to dark-brown leaves. The distinctive bark is stringy and comes off the tree in thick, long strips.
Totara trees bear solitary or paired red flowers. These flowers house the oblong totara seeds that ripen in May and June.
A totara tree can grow to 120 feet in height in 100 years. Totara trees reach diameters of about 7 feet.
The Maoris used totara wood for crafting war canoes, building homes and carving decorations. European settlers harvested the wood for floor pilings, wharf and bridge construction, fence posts and railroad cars.
Smoke from burning totara wood is used to cure skin complaints, while the inner bark can be boiled and consumed to reduce fevers. Eating the bright-red berries may alleviate the symptoms of dysentery.
Totaras are hardy trees with little problems, but they are susceptible to fungal leaf-spot disease (Corynelia tropica). Damaged roots sometimes attract mealy bugs.
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