KAHIKATEA or WHITE PINE
This pine was formerly the most beautiful tree of lowland swampy forests throughout the country; but the stopbanking of rivers and the draining and conversion of swamps to pastures have caused the forests of kahikatea largely to disappear except on the West Coast. The tree has been noted for the density and purity of the stands it forms in swampy areas. Here it is a truly gregarious species and a few hundred stems per acre of mature tree are common. When peaty swamps are drained, kahikatea tree stumps in similar densities are sometimes exposed, indicating earlier forests. It is also present in forests other than swamp forest, but in these it is rapidly being cut out.
Kahikatea grows to heights of over 150 ft and is the tallest of New Zealand forest trees. In diameter it is seldom more than 3 to 4 ft and the trunks have a long slender appearance topped by a smallish ragged crown. It is a conifer belonging to the same genus as other important forest trees such as matai, P. spicatus, and totara, P. totara. Leaves are small and awl-shaped. Juvenile plants are particularly sparse in branching habit and in leaves. Seeds are small and rounded, borne on a red receptacle, and are often produced in profusion.
The timber is non-durable and especially subject to damage by house borer (Anobium). Nevertheless, it has many excellent properties including the absence of odour. This caused it to be in great demand for butter boxes, cheese crates, and tallow casks in the days before fibre-board containers. Consequently there was then a sizable export trade in the timber to Australia and Europe. White pine is still used for casks.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.