As a child Philip Simpson split tōtara wood to make farm fences - as an adult he spent eight years researching and writing about one of New Zealand's most treasured trees.

He's coming to Whanganui to talk about tōtara on May 21, with special reference to the notable tōtara here.

The talk is in the Davis Lecture Theatre, starting at 7.30pm. It's put on by Whanganui's bird, plant and environment groups and it's free, but a $4 koha would be appreciated.

Simpson was brought up on a farm, where he ate tōtara fruits and climbed the trees to find birds' nests. He said the trees were appreciated for their huge size and their straight-grained soft and durable wood.

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He'll talk about their evolution and ecology, and how New Zealanders have used them. The Whanganui River has its significant tōtara trees, including one carved to make Kemp's Pole at Raorikia, and the one used to make Whanganui Regional Museum's huge waka taua (war canoe), Te Mata o Hoturoa.

Simpson lives in Golden Bay and has written four books. As well as tōtara he has focused on cabbage trees, pōhutukawa and rātā. His latest book is a history of Abel Tasman National Park.