This graceful medium height conical forest native grows steadily to four metres by ten years, and up to a maximum of 20 metres. Hardy, it tolerates most soils though prefers moist ground with good drainage and dappled shading. Tanekaha is endemic from Northland to Taranaki, but also thrives in isolated patches in Marlborough and Nelson regions, frequently growing in Kauri forests. Generally monoecious (male and female on the same tree), Tanekaha is often dioecious.
Male flowers resemble tiny centimetre-long willow catkins in clusters at the outer limit of shoots, while female flowers also occur in clusters. Once fertilised, a seed forms within a white open case. Seed is released during autumn and early winter when it falls to the ground but can also be dispersed by birds.
Tanekaha’s erect pyramid form with its conical crown and slender spreading branches, lends itself beautifully as a specimen tree, but it is equally a superior plantation choice. The straight grey-green trunk of young trees are virtually lacking in taper although annular bands are often present. As the tree matures, the crown spreads and rounds out while the bark turns red-brown, thickens, and becomes rough, and in old trees, sometimes develops vertical cracks.
Dropping their lower branches as they attain height and leave straight clean trunks, Tanekaha have been sought out from earliest times by Maori and Europeans for their strong timber and tannin-rich bark.
The bark was prized by Maori for the red, and various brown dyes they could extract. In Germany in the late 1800s the bark was used for fashionable red and pink dyes, and soldier’s WWI uniforms got their khaki colour from Tanekaha bark dyes.
Tanekaha was also used extensively by Maori for a range of ailments from dysentery, to liver disorders, and is still in popular use by modern herbalists.