Conservation Week | 10 Native New Zealand Trees You Should Know About

Conservation Week | 10 Native New Zealand Trees You Should Know About

This week (15th - 23rd September 2018) is Conservation week.

A time to acknowledge Aotearoa’s unique flora and fauna and the work that DoC and other organisations are doing to protect what underpins our existence on this planet - our native environment.

Take this week to learn of the incredible beings that exist around you within plain sight, go on a guided bush work or volunteer your time to help a restoration project.

To get you started we have put together a list of ten common native trees (Rākau) that coexist with us. Take time to learn their names and how to identify them and you will never walk around outside the same again.

1. Tōtara

One of the four guardians of the forest growing over 30m high – noticeable by it’s flaky bark and small, long sharp tipped leaves. Māori prized the timber of this tree and used it totara to carve waka, and build tools and housing.

2. Rimu

Slow growing tree that can grow up to 50m high. It is recognizable by it’s shaggy looking foliage resembling on old mans beard. Large trees can be between 700-1000 years old. The red fruit cup that carries the seed is edible. The bitter gum was applied to wounds to stop bleeding and the leaves were used to heal wounds.  The bruised inner bark was applied to burns

3. Kauri

Kauri is among the world's mightiest trees, growing to more than 50 metres tall, with trunk girths of up to 16 metres. They covered much of the top half of the North Island when the first people arrived around 1000 years ago. Māori used it for building waka and burnt the gum for heat and light, they also chewed it. Kauri is experiencing Kauri dieback disease which is caused by a mold spore called Phytophthora agathidicida and is spread predominately by humans. Spore can be carried in soil lasting on your shoes or equipment for up to 10 years. It can also move through water. Always clean your shoes when entering Kauri forest and never step near a kauri to avoid infecting healthy Kauri.

4. Kōwhai

Growing to a height of 8m these Kōwhai explode in a sea of yellow flowers in late winter early spring and indicate when it is time to plant kūmara. All parts of this plant are extremely poisonous. There are many types of Kōwhai but this is the most common. During flowering it is common to see many Tui feeding from its bell shaped flowers.

5. Pūriri

Grows massive with sprawling brunches that can be quite knotted and mishapen. Noticeable by its small pink bell shaped flowers that litter underneath the tree. Its large red berries are consumed and transported only by Kererū. Sometimes has smooth bark and is usually home to lots epiphytes (Plants that grow in trees). Māori would boil the leaves infused with others to heal ulcers and pains.

6. Tī Kōuka (Cabbage Tree)

Growing up to 20m high, early settlers would eat the young shoots of the tree as a substitute for cabbage. This tree is very tenacious and will grow back after being cut down. Maori would harvest the root of the young trees, which is shaped like a large carrot 2-3ft long. They would then bake or steam it in their ovens and eat it dipped in water. Europeans also used the fire resistant truck as chimneys and they brewed beer from the root.

7. Kawakawa

Noticeable by its green heart shaped leaves Kawakawa is a highly medicinal plant – can be chewed on to relieve tooth and headaches or made into a tea. It is great for healing cuts and wounds and Māori would dry it and burn it as an insect repellent. Yellow fruits are edible and are eaten by Kererū. Grows everywhere and quickly with big knuckles in the branches. Leaves usually bear holes in the leaves from Looper Caterpillars - signifying the appropriate leaves to pick for a medicinal Rongōa tea.

8. Mānuka/Kānuka (Kānuka Featured)

Manuka and Kanuka get confused often but they are easy to tell apart. If you squeeze a handful of either manuka will be sharp and prickly (Manuka = Mean) whereas Kānuka will be soft and forgiving (Kānuka = Kind).

Mānuka is a shrub growing up to only 4m high whereas Kānuka will grow over 15m high. Both species are pioneering species and will grow almost anywhere. Usually the first seedling to pop up in a regenerating area of burnt off or cleared land, these trees create favorable conditions in the soil to foster the regeneration if seedlings from larger trees.

9. Kahikatea

They are the oldest member of the ancient Podocarp family and have been around for more than 160 million years. Kahikatea is sometimes called dinosaur trees because they existed alongside the dinosaurs during the Jurassic period. They support whole ecosystems on their trunks and branches. Growing up to 55m these trees can live up to 500 years. The fleshy red fruit was an important food resource for Māori as well as the wood being used for making Wāka and bird spears. Bark is smooth at youth but becomes flaky and waxy in old age.

10. Nīkau

Large palm leaf tree that sprouts small red fruits and grows 15m tall – trees grow their heads first close to ground and then grow very tall. The leaves were used to thatch houses, to wrap food before cooking, and to weave into hats, mats, baskets, and leggings for travelling through undergrowth. The outer portion of the trunk was used to make containers and pots. Can be used as a laxative and to relax the pelvic floor for birth. Young shoots can be eaten but will kill the tree.

11. Medicinal Native plants - Recommended reading:

Rongoā Rākau: Māori Herbal Medicine - Donna Kerridge


Rongoā Māori: A Practical Guide to Traditional Māori Medicine

View books:



Back to blog


Which NZ tree was used by the settlers for building houses but is now protected because these trees were around 1000 years old and aren’t being replaced?

Bob Martin

I am training to be a volunteer guide on Tiri Tiri Matangi and your top 10 birds and trees have been a great help
Thank you and don’t forget Tiri Tiri Matangi is a conservation wonderland for NZ natives.
Flora Fauna and Insects and Reptiles.

Lynne Lagan

Nice! Thanks Dylan, I love all of these tree friends and lovely to see your name at the bottom of the post as the author xx

Aaron Brunet


Geoff Reid

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.