Rimu is a podocarp, the group of conifers that is dominant in the Southern Hemisphere. In contrast to most conifers podocarps have fleshy seeds dispersed by birds. There are over 200 species of podocarps in 20 genera. Rimu is the only New Zealand member of the genus Dacrydium which is more common in New Caledonia and Indonesia and New Zealand’s is one of the largest podocarps anywhere.
The name rimu refers to the branches of the young tree that hang down and flow in the wind (large seaweeds are also named rimu). It is New Zealand’s most common conifer, growing with beech forest throughout New Zealand and sometimes forming pure stands, or mixed with other podocarps like tōtara, kahikatea and mataī. Rimu produces hard, attractive wood and has been the main native timber tree, but is now milled only under permit on private land. The timber is used for joinery and furniture and is often recycled.
Rimu cones have a single seed attached to a sweet, red ‘berry’. Every few years each female tree bears a huge crop and then it is an important bird food encouraging successful breeding. New Zealand birds are often long-lived and reproduce infrequently. The famous flightless nocturnal parrot, kākāpō, is one that depends on rimu fruit.