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In The Hills In the forest 2011-06

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 83, # 5, June 2011

June in the forest with Chris Horne and Barbara Mitcalfe

Alectryon excelsus, Tītoki

Alectryon-excelsus-exce-01a.jpg: 1068x1600, 1031k (2017 Apr 24 04:04)
Alectryon excelsus, Tītoki
Photo: Jeremy Rolfe

You can often spot a tītoki trunk from a distance by its almost black colour, and when you get close, you can feel its slightly rough texture. The dark green, pointed leaflets, each about 7 cm long, usually have serrated edges, and are arranged in pairs along the stalk, with a single leaflet at the end. This foliage is highly palatable to browsing animals such as possums, which can easily kill a tree by defoliating it. Tītoki grow in lowland sites with fertile soil and a reasonably warm climate, where they can reach to well over 10 m in height.

A NZ endemic, tītoki extend from North Cape, to Banks Peninsula and Westland.

Pendulous clusters of tiny, deep red flowers are followed by curiously shaped, woody, brown capsules which take about a year to mature. When they open, they reveal what looks like a scarlet raspberry (it's called an aril), topped by a shiny black seed about 1 cm long.

Māori observed that birds flocked to feed on tītoki in season, and after gorging on these succulent arils, nearly always drank water. So choosing a tītoki with a good crop of arils, hunters would secure in its branches, tiny wooden troughs like canoes, filled with water. Attached around the troughs were finely plaited snares which were activated by a hunter hidden nearby, ready to tug the draw-string.

Like many plants in our flora, tītoki has medicinal (rongoā) properties which were known to Māori, and the fragrant oil, when refined by a laborious process, was used as an unguent and a perfume.

Category
Botany 2011

Page last modified on 2017 May 04 08:53

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