Māori Plant Use

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Plant Use Details 

Prumnopitys taxifolia. Matai. Main reference.
FAMILY: Podocarpaceae
BOTANICAL NAME: Prumnopitys taxifolia
PREVIOUS NAMES: Podocarpus spicatus
MĀORI NAME: MATAĪ; matahi (Allom); Te Mai (Taylor 1847).
Young trees: kāī, māī, kākāī (Best 1908)
Decayed heartwood (natural, not affected by grubs): popo-a-whaitiri (Best 1908)
COMMON NAME: black pine; maiberry Allom in Earp 1853; pine tree Taylor 1870
NOTES: Māori claim to recognize two species (Best 1942).
Matai included in group of most important trees - rakau rangatira. Māori recognize differences in timber appearance and wood. Variety with dry, light inner wood which splits easily is the female tree (Best 1908).
MEDICINAL: Juice obtained from tapping trunk is drunk to check the advance of consumption (Adams 1945).
Used as antiseptic by bushmen (K. Pickmere 1940).
FOOD: ''... the fruit is a black berry, about the size of a wild cherry, this is sweet and rather slimy in its taste.'' (Taylor 1847)
Matahi? Maiberry? Fruit gathered when dry. After few hours, juice bursts through. Is very glutinous. Flavour delicious in warm weather. Slightly acid. Stonefruit, 3/4 stone. (Allom, in Earp 1853). Berries used for food (Kirk, in Taylor 1870 ; Colenso 1869a, 1869b, 1881 ; Best 1942 ; Nicholas 1817).
''It produces a purple berry like a small plum, of a sweet, fragrant, though slimy taste.'' (Taylor 1855).
Refreshing beverage 'newly tapped on a hot day.' When heartshakes occur, the watery portion of the sap accumulates in cavities in large quantities (Kirk 1889).
''Mataī beer'' tapped by bushmen from the heartwood cracks of old mataī trees (Easterfield and McDowell, 1916).
DYES: Bark occasionally used by tanners (Kirk 1889).

Brown dye (Wall, Cranwell 1943).
DOMESTIC: Used for troughs, trays and other large vessels; carving; combs; ornamental boxes (Colenso 1869a).
Prized as fuel, much used for furniture (Taylor 1855).
Used to make wooden spades (Best 1925).
Preferred among Tūhoe for carved, ornate handles of (largely) ceremonial adzes. Also used for handles of hewing-adzes. (Best 1912).
Used as hard stick when making fire by friction (McNeill 1990).
Wallace 1989 found 29 bowls, 9 fernroot beaters, 5 mauls, 5 adze helves, 7 composite spade shafts, 1 kō, 6 wakahuia made of mataī among museum artefacts he tested.
CONSTRUCTION: Timber tree. Cabinetmaking, panelling, wheelwrights and millwrights work (Colenso 1869a).
Durable timber (Kirk 1889). (N.B. Details on colonial timber uses generally not recorded in this database).
FISHING AND HUNTING: Probably tree described by Nicholas 1817 for making long spears (p.341).
Carved work on canoe stems (Colenso 1869a).
Thin, pliable and tough branches of kāī (young tree) used for making eel pots ( Best 1903 1908).
Timber used in canoe making - often used for thwarts. Canoe bailers (Best 1925).
Often used for canoe paddles (Tuta Nihoniho, Ngāti-Porou, ibid)
Posts of mataī or rātā used in making of eel weirs. (Makereti 1938)
CHEMISTRY: Chemical constituents listed in Cambie 1976, 1988 with references.

Further details in Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987.
PASTIME: Large war gongs (Colenso 1869b).
See section on musical instruments in Best 1925.
A preferred wood for making tops (also Te Rangi Hiroa 1949).
Preferred wood for making toboggans on East Coast (see also Cordyline, Phormium, maire). Used to make flutes of various types. Also the pūkāea, a wooden trumpet. Bullroarers. Kororohu (whizzers). Pahu (gong). Pakuru, pakuku, kikiporo - straight wood tapped with a smaller piece. Roria, or Jew's harp. Ku - a one stringed instrument.
Wallace 1989 found 2 spinning tops made of mataī among museum artefacts he tested.
SCENT: Resin is very aromatic. (Taylor 1855).