Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History

Philip Simpson

A wonder of evolution, the big tree of the forest, the wood behind Māori carving and Pākehā fence posts: the ‘mighty tōtara’ is New Zealand’s tree and this book tells its story.

The ‘mighty tōtara’ is one of our most extraordinary trees. Among the biggest and oldest trees in the New Zealand forest, the heart of Māori carving and culture, trailing no. 8 wire as fence posts on settler farms, clambered up in the Pureora protests of the 1980s: the story of New Zealand can be told through tōtara.

Simpson tells that story like nobody else could. In words and pictures, through waka and leaves, farmers and carvers, he takes us deep inside the trees: their botany and evolution, their role in Māori life and lore, their uses by Pākehā, and their current status in our environment and culture. By doing so, Simpson illuminates the natural world and the story of Māori and Pākehā in this country.

Our largest trees, the kauri Tāne Mahuta and the tōtara Pouakani, are both thought to be around 1000 years old. They were here before we humans were and their relatives will probably be here when we are gone. Tōtara has been central to life in this country for thousands of years. This book tells a great tree’s story, and that is our story too.

 

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Author

Philip Simpson is a botanist and author of Dancing Leaves: The Story of New Zealand’s Cabbage Tree, Tī Kōuka (Canterbury University Press, 2000) and Pōhutukawa and Rātā: New Zealand’s Iron-hearted Trees (Te Papa Press, 2005). Both books won Montana Book Awards in the Environment category and Pōhutukawa and Rātā also won the Montana Medal for best non-fiction book. Simpson is unique in his ability to combine the scientific expertise of the trained botanist with a writer’s ability to understand the history of Māori and Pākehā interactions with the environment. He was awarded the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer’s Fellowship to work on Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History.

June 2017, 260 x 224 mm, 300 pages, Colour illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 9781869408190, $75