Many of you reading this review will either have a totara tree somewhere on your land or wish you did. The mighty totara once spread wide and far, but like many majestic giants of the New Zealand forest, it suffered at the blades of the early settlers.

It even once stood proudly on top of Auckland famous One Tree Hill back in the 1800's before it was cut down in embarrassingly grotesque fashion for the sole purpose of firewood. Some speculate the original tree up there was a Pohutakawa, but that just wouldn't fit with my introduction. In any case, the powers that be have finally agreed, after what seems like 100 years of deliberations, and have planted new totara atop the controversial peak - and best wishes to them.

Those young totara atop Maungakiekie, as is it not often called, will hope to grow in the tradition and honour befitting one of our grandest natives. Often the Kauri claims that title, especially given the prevalence of named examples throughout Northland - therefore I decree that the Totara can be crowned Prince of the native trees.

Phillip Simpson tells us more than just a few names of famous totara trees throughout Aotearoa, he tells us the story of this grand forest being and how it has impacted New Zealand since humans first landed upon our shores.

Advertisement

He describes how Maori used the tree, how early settlers did, the carvers too, and he portrays the evolution of its uses as the people grew alongside the trees themselves. Also included is a detailed scientific breakdown to describe how they grow - the totara trees 'inner' workings if you will.

Grand furniture of all likes and kinds have been built from native timbers and totara is no exception. However, it's more than likely that the only piece of totara that most of us would have ever sat on is probably an old fence post. Natural chemicals in the wood prevented rot and farmers all over the countryside used them for fencing. I can currently see eight such examples on a fence on my farm that I really should replace...but the need has yet to arise as the posts are better than some of the 'treated' number 2 posts.

Totara - A Natural and Cultural History is full of amazing examples of this truly grand tree. Expertly crafted graphs, historic artwork and superb photography all work together to provide a wonderful tribute to one of our finest items of flora.


Totara: A natural and Cultural History by Phillip Simpson is published by the Auckland University Press, RRP $75.00.