Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Metrosideros excelsa. Pōhutukawa. Main reference.
FAMILY: Myrtaceae Myrtle family
BOTANICAL NAME: Metrosideros excelsa
MĀORI NAME: PŌHUTUKAWA, pohutukawa, hutukawa, rātā (south of East Cape, Beever 1991),
bloom of the rātā: kahika
COMMON NAME: New Zealand Christmas tree
MEDICINAL: Inner bark- decoction, dysentery (Baber 1887 ; Brett's Guide 1883 ; Kirk, in Taylor 1870, 1889; Goldie 1905)
Flowers - honey, sore throat (Brett's Guide 1883 ; Goldie 1905)
Infusion of inner bark used for diarrhoea (Kerry-Nicholls 1886 ; Reed and Brett's 1874).
Used by bushmen for dysentery (Kirk 1889).
''The juice of the inner bark is said to possess a medicinal virtue, and the Maoris are accustomed to use it to allay inflammation, and promote healing in gunshot and gangrenous wounds'' (Featon 1889)
FOOD: Flowers produce a thin honey, formerly collected in large quantities (Colenso 1869a ; Kirk, in Taylor 1870 ; Best 1942)
On Rangitoto, biggest industry is beekeeping. Honey produced from the pollen of pohutukawa flowers is especially white, has a distinct flavour. Queen Elizabeth apparently orders a batch of Rangitoto honey every year. (Jan Corbett, `Metro' magazine, Feb. 1986, p.19)
DYES: Bark astringent, valuable for tanning (Brett's Guide 1883)
DOMESTIC: ''the 'Christmas tree' of the colonists.'' (Taylor 1870)
A fine fuel (Taylor 1855).
''As firewood it is highly approved, and as a heat-producer stands next in order to the Puriri, and the Kowahi'' (Featon 1889)
Wallace 1989 found 6 fernroot beaters, 16 mauls, 2 paddles, a weapon, an eel club, 2 ketu, 3 ko, 1 teka, 1 wakahuia made of Metrosideros species among museum artefacts he tested.
CONSTRUCTION: ''Wood hard and red'' (Taylor 1870)
''The only wood on the island [Tuhua, Mayor Island] is the Rata or Portikawa [sic.], called by Europeans the Iron Wood from its hardness - it is of a red colour, and very durable, and from which the timbers of all vessels that are built in New Zealnd are made - ... - it is very heavy. The roots of this tree are likewise used as timbers and gunwales for boats, being very pliant while green, and will bend to any shape...'' ('M', Sketches of New Zealand 1837)
Timber tree. Shipbuilding. Cabinetmaking. (Taylor 1855; Colenso 1869a). (N.B. Literature on post-European timber uses generally not part of this database).
CHEMISTRY: Essential oil and other chemical compounds listed in Cambie 1976, 1988 with references.
Lowry 1968 found that the bark of all New Zealand species contained ellagic acid, used as an astringent in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery.
PASTIME: Wallace 1989 found 1 spinning top made of Metrosideros species among museum artefacts he tested.
TRADITIONS: Two pohutukawa brought in the canoe Horouta - Te Rōhutu-mai-tawhiti and Oteko-mai-tawhiti (Turei 1912, Te Rangi Hiroa 1949)
Tainui canoe tied to pohutukawa, called Tangi te Korowhiti, when canoe arrived in the Kawhia Harbour more than 600 years ago. Seeds from the tree propagated by DOC in 1987, to ensure its continued survivial. (from newspaper cutting in New Zealand Herald, 14 March 1991)