May in the hills with Chris Horne and Michele Dickson
Pittosporum eugenioides, tarata, lemonwood
Origin of the botanical name
Pittosporum is derived from the Greek word for pitch (tar), referring to the sticky pulp around the seeds, and the word “spora” for seed; eugenioides means resembling Eugenia, a species of myrtle. Lemonwood is a member of the Pittosporaceae family, found mostly in Australia, with about 20 species in New Zealand.
Distribution and habitat
Tarata is endemic to New Zealand. It occurs on Te Ika a Māui/North Island and on Te Waipounamu/South Island. Look for it in regenerating and mature forest in coastal to montane situations.
Tarata is an evergreen tree up to 12 m tall with spreading branches and a trunk up to 60 cm diameter with pale-grey, smooth or slightly rough bark. The leaves are wavy-edged, elliptic-oblong in shape, alternate, 5-15 cm long x 2.5-4 cm wide, with smooth edges and slender stalks 1-2 cm long. They feel slightly leathery, are mildly glossy and are coloured pale green with paler blotches sometimes evident. The midrib is a pale lemon. The leaves have a lemon perfume when crushed. During winter, leaf buds are protected by overlapping bud scales.
Flowering is from October to December with the fruits ripening in October to January of the following year. Some plants have only female flower parts, while some have both male and female on the same flowers. The flowers are small, tubular, pale yellow to yellow, in dense terminal compound umbels / clusters. The petals of each flower are narrow-oblong, 5-7 mm long. Sweet, heavy scents of the flowers attract insects for pollination. Flowers ripen into 2-valved or sometimes 3-valved, pointed, ovoid capsules, 5-6 mm long. These split open, exposing a long-lasting thin papery layer around the black seeds which are covered in a dark yellow viscid pulp. Birds spread the seeds because they stick to them.
Medicinal uses include using the resinous, balsamic gum extracted from the bark as a masticatory, a chewing gum for bad breath, and as an antiseptic on wounds and sores. Leaves have been chewed into a paste to cure raw places on a saddle-sore horse. Ornamental uses include the resins and crushed leaves being used in recipes for scents. Māori extracted the scented resins / gums from mainly the bark and carried them in sachets around the neck or made them into body ornaments. They also mixed the resins or flowers with fat to anoint their bodies. The strong, tough wood has been used to make handles for tools and for trumpets, when gummed together with tarata glue. Tarata is a popular garden tree and large hedge plant.
Where can you find tarata?
Look for it in Ōtari-Wilton's Bush, Huntleigh Park, East Harbour Regional Park and in the Akatarawa, Tararua and Remutaka ranges.