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Tōtara The ancient giant of our forests

Ka haere te tōtara haemata, ka takoto te pukatea wai nui.

The Tōtara floats, while the pukatea lies in deep water.

Maori prized this forest tree more highly than any other because of the remarkable qualities of its timber.

Tōtara is a conifer which usually grows to 20 - 25m high and has a diameter of up to 2.5m.

The Tōtara can grow up to 35m in exceptional circumstances. This will take about 100 years.

The Tōtara may live up to 1,000 years old making it the second oldest living Aotearoa native tree after the Kauri.

The sharp, dull green needle-like leaves are stiff and leathery, 2 cm long.

The female fruit is a rounded green seed (4-5 mm) which sits on a red smooth succulent receptacle.

It's bark is papery and has a reddish colouring.

Tōtara is a very strong wood.

Maori used Tōtara wood to build Waka as it would not splinter or crack when building and carving the Waka, light so it could float, and due to it's natural oils it would not rot.

Maori waka taua, capable of carrying 100 warriors, were often hollowed out from a single Totara log. Often the tree was chosen long before it was felled.

Pakeha also favoured this wood for fence posts, floor pilings and railway sleepers.

Head out into your backyard to find a few leafs (and maybe you are lucky enough to have a Tōtara tree) and learn how to make leaf people below! Make a leaf person for everyone in your bubble using the leaves in your garden. At this time of the year there should be lovely coloured leaves to enjoy as well!

What you will need:

  • Glue
  • Paper
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Flowers (optional)
  • Blu tack (optional)
  • Colouring in pens or pencils or paint and paint brushes or crayons
  1. Glue a leaf on a piece of paper with the stem pointing to the top of the paper.
  2. Using crayons, markers, and paints, turn the leaf into a person. You can draw a head at the top of the stem and use the leaf as the body.
  3. Glue on small twigs, flower petals, blades of grass, acorn caps, seed helicopters, and other items you collected outdoors to dress up your leaf people.
  4. Use the markers, crayons, and paint to add more details to your people.

You can get really creative and make your favourite animals too!

Share pictures of your leaf people on our Facebook page- we would love to see them!