Story: Te ngahere – forest lore

Page 6. Fruiting trees

All images & media in this story


Hīnau bark was used to make pātua (food containers) and black tattooing pigment. Its fruit was an important food for Māori, who pounded or soaked it to remove the flesh from the stones, dried it, then baked it into large cakes.


Cakes were also made from the pungapunga (pollen) of raupō (bulrush). The rhizome of this plant provided a starchy food.


Māori ate the yellow fruit of poroporo. The tree produces fruit year-round, but unripe fruit is poisonous – it is edible only when the skin has split.


The kernels of tawa and taraire, which mature in late summer to early autumn, were a staple of forest tribes north of Lake Taupō. The kernels were boiled, steamed, or roasted in embers. When dried they kept for several months. Tawa was also used to make taoroa (long bird spears) and as fuel to light fires.


Growing from 5 to 15 metres tall, and with thick, glossy green leaves, karaka was probably the most important source of kernels. These had to be carefully prepared because in their raw state they are poisonous. They were boiled or steamed for up to 12 hours, then immersed in running stream water for one or two weeks. The kernels could then be stored for several months. Re-cooking softened them for eating. The raw flesh of the bright orange fruit is also edible, and has a strong apricot flavour. Māori planted groves of karaka trees near the bays and harbours they seasonally visited.


Tutu needed special preparation to neutralise its deadly toxicity. Every part of the plant is poisonous except for the petals (which look like long strings of small, dark fruit). To extract the juice, Māori crushed and strained the petals through toetoe and other fibrous plants. It was used to sweeten and flavour other foods such as aruhe (fern root) and dishes made from mamaku and karaka.

Moveable feast

North Island traditions say that when the forests were more plentiful, large flocks of kūkupa (New Zealand pigeons) travelled from forest to forest to eat the fruit as it ripened. In spring and early summer they ate miro, pūriri and taraire in Northland. By March (early autumn) they had moved south to Pirongia and Te Aroha in the Kaimai Ranges; in May and June they were at Rangitoto and Ranginui near Te Kūiti; and in July and August (late winter) they feasted at Tītīraupenga, Pureora and Ketemaringi before returning north.


Tītoki grows up to 20 metres tall. Its red berries were used in scented sachets, or crushed, washed, then pressed to make hair oil. The oil was stored in tahā hinu (small gourd vessels) and perfumed with leaves of heketara, raukawa, mānuka or the moss kōpuru. Pia and ware (gums) extracted from tarata and taramea were also added.


The Ngāti Porou tribe extracted oil from the seeds of parapara by steaming, pounding and pressing them.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Te ngahere – forest lore - Fruiting trees', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 24 Sep 2007