The New Zealand Kauri

The New Zealand Kauri

June 21, 2017

The New Zealand Kauri – Agathis australis – is a truly magnificent tree, revered in New Zealand by the native Maori and Europeans alike. The Kauri’s ancestors lived over 130 million years ago – making it one of the most ancient trees in the world! And the gargantuan trees can reach heights of over 160 feet tall and a diameter of over 66 feet across. The ancient Maori (native people of New Zealand) used Kauri wood to build boats, make carvings, weapons, and jewelry, and to build houses and public structures. The gum was used for many purposes as well, and the felling of one of these magnificent giants was usually accompanied by rituals.

Kauri Tree

Having lived in New Zealand briefly, I was thrilled to discover that BRIT’s own herbarium has a specimen of one of these amazing trees! The specimen was collected 27 January 1935 from the Bay of Islands, a subtropical micro-region of Northland, North Island, New Zealand. The collection was made from a 150-foot tall tree with a “tall and graceful” trunk found in a forest on the side of a mountain.

Kauri map

At one time Kauri forests covered 2.9 million acres in New Zealand, but due to severe exploitation (especially by the Europeans beginning in the late 1700s) there now remain only 200,000 acres. Kauri trees are so massive that they do not grow close together. A Kauri forest typically may have only an acre or so of total area covered by Kauri trees. These coniferous trees shed their bark regularly, grow straight and clean (no epiphytes except in the canopy), and provide homes and ecosystem services to numerous important native plants and animals, including rare parakeets, brown kiwi birds, kakas, and frogs. Map credit freeworldmaps.net

Kauri specimen

New Zealand’s oldest living Kauri trees today are 1,200-1,500 years old. Unfortunately, the oldest used to be a 4,000+ year-old giant named “Kairaru” which was destroyed in a fire in 1886.

The dwindling of the Kauri has been accompanied by conservation efforts across New Zealand attempting to preserve forests, limit commercial use of the trees (Kauri wood & carvings are popular souvenirs for tourists), and contain a new disease called Kauri Dieback which is having devastating effects on populations.

Kauri boat

Kauri carvings

Perhaps information provided by herbarium specimens – historic populations and distribution, habitat characterization, and DNA – can help with further conservation efforts for these incredible emblems of living history and New Zealand culture.

Leave A Response

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Related Articles

Frontera, Texas

It's 1852 in the newly-formed Republic of Texas. A devoted botanist collects a Cryptantha oblata specimen in the forgotten town of Frontera...
Read More >

Botanical Specimens with a Mysterious Past!

“Wow!” is the most frequent comment from visitors viewing the two oldest plant specimens in the BRIT Herbarium, both of which were collected by Dr. Thaddeus Haenke in 1791.
Read More >

Holiday Botany: Poinsettia

The poinsettia is a quintessential part of typical holiday decor. Its bright red, burgundy, or white foliage are common sights in locations both private and public throughout the winter months, from apartment balconies and church altars to bank lobbies and coffeehouses. And as you can see in the specimen image below, not even time can wipe away the bright colors on the bracts, still distinguishable after 22 years in a cabinet. But do you know the history of poinsettias, the namesake of this most festive member of the Spurge Family? Before they were known as poinsettias, Euphorbia pulcherrima was known as cuitlaxochitlI to the Aztecs, who used the plant as a source for dyes and fever-reducing medicine. Following the arrival of Spanish influence in Mexico and Guatemala, the red blooms became...
Read More >