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Shift your focus for a couple of minutes and get yourself up a ladder for a look at the spectacular Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides). This handsome native tree was first described by Daniel Solander, the naturalist on Captain James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769-1771. Generally attaining 15–45m in height with diameter at chest height of .6–1.5m, Burstall and Sale recorded in 1984 the largest Kahikatea still standing at Kaharoa near Rotorua. It was 50m tall with girth at chest height of 1.84m. However, records exist of trees over 60m, making Kahikatea the indisputably tallest of our native trees.

D. dacrydioides is a dioecious specimen forest tree with fast growth to five metres within ten years up to an average maximum of forty metres. It carries mature khaki green foliage barely recognisable as leaves, partly because of the great height at which they grow, but also because their overlapping form is almost scale-like. Seedling and sapling leaves are soft, crescent-shaped, with pointed tips. Kahikatea are more often defined by their greyish-brown bark, which in mature trees sheds small scales, giving the tree the appearance of having been crafted with a hammer. They need good light, and their upright narrow conical crowns protrude through the canopy to access it.

Flowering occurs from October through January with single dark green male flowers appearing at the end of branchlets. Minute female flowers are borne on separate trees when pollen is released from October to November. Once fertilised the female bloom enlarges and forms a 6mm round pulpous fruit with a glossy dark nut on the crown. Fruit ripens over a year to bright orange from February to April. Open-grown trees lush with ripe fruit are exceedingly attractive. In a good seed year which can be four years apart, a single tree can produce 135kg of fruit (4.5 million seeds) making Kahikatea an important food source for frugivores, particularly kereru, bellbird, and waxeyes, but also blackbirds and thrushes. Birds are the primary mode of seed dispersal.

This hardy conifer loves swampy and riparian situations but also thrives in high rainfall regions on well-drained hill sites up to 700m altitude in the North Island, 500m in the South Island, and close to sea level on Stewart Island. On swampy sites D. dacrydioides develops flanges and buttresses for stability which extend to the roots. This native is frost-tolerant.

Kahikatea makes a magnificent statement tree in large parks with riparian margins or other open environments and does well planted in stands.

$120 each           $480 each

Dacrydioides means ‘like a dacrydium’ – a genus of Podocarps belonging to the family Podocarpaceae, and Dacrycarpus means ‘tear-shaped fruit’. That fruit was popular with Maori, who called it koroi. In good years when the trees were laden, Maori harvested koroi for selling or feasting. The men climbed the tall almost limbless trees and either shook fruit onto mats below, or picked it into baskets while they were suspended between branches. In 1841 James Bidwill, a botanist, claimed to have seen sixty sizeable baskets of the nutritious fruit in one large village. A Maori saying relating to the gathering of koroi states: He toa piki rakau kahikatea, he kai na te pakiaka -The kahikatea climber is food for the roots. Koroi are said to have a slightly oily but pleasant flavour.

  • Prolific koroi seasons brought prolific kereru and tui into the forests making  good hunting grounds
  • Kahikatea possesses a bitter-sweet resin which Maori favoured as chewing gum
  • Maori used a decoction of leaves as a tonic for bladder and internal problems 
  • Chewed bark produced a numbing effect in the mouth
  • Maori carved Kahikatea, and where kauri and totara were in short supply, made canoes from it, but few examples of old artefacts exist due to the perishable nature of the sapwood and its attractiveness to borer
  • Burnt kahikatea resin (kapara) produced soot which became a tattooing pigment
  • D. dacrydioides timber has straight fine grain, is evenly textured but difficult to split
  • Sapwood rots quickly and is of greater bulk than heartwood
  • Heartwood once matured is pale brown to white, and sometimes yellow
  • Timber is soft, light and tough with good nailing, machining, and turning properties
  • Timber is odourless and tasteless so ideal for use with food
  • Early Europeans used it for building houses including frames and floorboards but borer soon found it
  • The absence of colour and taste made it ideal for butter boxes and cheese crates
  • By mid-1900s over six million butter boxes were produced annually, substantially diminishing the resource
  • Agreements were entered into with sawmillers to ensure the dairy industry were supplied with their needs before export was allowed
  • In the 1950s borer treatment became available and Kahikatea was used for fascia boards, scaffold planking, mouldings, feature panelling, window sashes, and was the preferred timber for boat-building 
  • Because it is endemic to the vast majority of the country, more Kahikatea were felled by settlers than any other single species.  So the loss of kahikatea forest in European times far exceeds that of any other native tree and only a few pure large sized stands remain in Westland, though there are hundreds of remaining  smaller stands throughout the country
  • Propagate by germinating seed stratified for six weeks
  • Can be grown from hardwood cuttings but slow to strike
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102 Omaha Flats Road, Matakana

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