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If you’re going to make 10m long bird spears that can be handed down the generations, you need Tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa) timber taken from the precise centre between heartwood and bark. Give your eyes a break and let them rove over the marvellous native tree that provided Maori with this extraordinary hunting tool. 

Tawa is an upright forest specimen tree with attractive aromatic yellow-green leaves reminiscent of willow foliage. It grows slowly to three metres by ten years, to a maximum of 25 metres. Its form varies according to its growing environment, and its age. Young trees growing in dense forest develop straight boles devoid of branches up to ten metres, with a restricted barrel-shaped crown opening out with age and spreading haphazardly. By contrast, Tawa grown in the open or on forest perimeters develop short trunks with closely packed, rounded crowns. Tawa dominates some North Island forests and is the dominant hardwood tree in Northland, occurring in forests up to 900m. In the South Island it is uncommon outside of Marlborough Sounds except for isolated stands near Kaikoura.

Flowering from October to January in inconspicuous yellow sprays, many blooms drop over summer. Those that remain are carried over winter and fruit in the following spring. Fruit (pokerehu) are large dark purple plum-like drupes with a single large elongated seed. It ripens from January to March and kereru flock for it. It is an important late season food for them and they are the main seed dispersal mechanism beyond dropping straight from the tree.

Pokerehu also provided Maori with food. Both flesh and kernels were used as food but while the drupe is sweet, it has a turpentine flavour and is quite unpalatable unless it is very ripe, and even then it is only just acceptable. It’s possible that pokerehu was eaten only when other foods were in short supply.

Tawa prefers protective shade such as forest canopy for maximum development. Commercially millable quality timber may take as much as 200 years to reach size. Beilschmiedia tawa is afflicted by frost and drought but can be established in sheltered locations, and preferably beneath a taller canopy on good soil. They need good drainage and will not sustain drought. 

The timber is readily split and straight grained. Apart from bird spears, Maori used long straight rails of Tawa as battoning for roofs and whare walls, as well as for Waka Taua (war canoe) paddles.


 $130 each            $900 each

The Maori word, tawa means 'to be purple' and is considered to have derived from the deep purple pokerehu (Tawa fruits). Maori gathered the fruit and trampled it in water to get the flesh off the kernel. They steamed them and then dried the kernels for storage. They kept almost indefinitely once dried. When it was time to eat them, the kernels were steamed or boiled to soften them. Cooked like this, they taste similar to potatoes.

  • In combination with rimu bark and tutu, Maori used Tawa in a lotion for wounds. The thin bark was also used to relieve colds and stomach aches. 
  • Tawa timber becomes a bright creamy-brown once seasoned. Then grain is moderately fine, lustrous and flecked. 
  • The timber keeps well, dresses admirably, and accepts fine polishing. It’s good for turning but turners may have to sharpen their blades repeatedly. 

  • Boring insects are most partial to the sapwood, and air dried timber can discolour, and even begin to decay. It’s recommended to kiln dry from green and treat with boron to get around these difficulties.

  • Because the timber is odourless it was ideal for making butter churns, butter kegs, buckets, casks and tubs in early days. 

  • It can be used for firewood but is not particularly hot-burning

  • Tawa’s turning, staining, and machining qualities lent it to the manufacture of rotary cut veneers, flooring, house trims, furniture, clothes pegs and turned handles. Poorer grades were used in house framing, dunnage, and heads for loose cooperage on boats. In 1990 huge orders of Tawa were requisitioned for the making of fine writing and printing papers. Until the import of hardwoods from other countries took over, Tawa was used almost exclusively for commercially produced furniture, handles, general turnery, dowelling, and strip flooring. 

  • Easily grown from fresh seed which germinates better with the soft flesh removed

  • Seed can be gathered from the ground from April through June

  • Stratify for four weeks at 4°C then sow into seed trays in sheltered frost-free environment

  • Germination can be variable

For all price and availability list

* All prices are exclusive of GST

102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

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