The pukatea tree is one of New Zealand’s largest with glossy green leaves (puka) and white to grey bark (tea).
In the Park, pukatea is a fairly rare swamp forest species along with kahikatea and they often grow together. It is regarded as a special plant which may explain why several bays and streams are named after it in this region.
There are only a very few pukatea remaining at Te Pukatea Bay, at the back of the wetland, but there is a fine stand along the Pukatea Walk at Totaranui. Small groups can be seen in most of the larger valleys along the coast and now that fire and bush clearance has stopped young pukatea are increasingly common. This is good news for rata as pukatea is a favourite host tree. You may see the fluffy grey seeds drifting in the wind in autumn.
Pukatea was highly regarded by Maori and while most waka were made from totara the head or prow of the large war waka taua were usually carved from pukatea. This is because pukatea is soft enough for carving, light and durable in water, strong, and unlike totara is not brittle so it did not break when rammed.
The inner bark of pukatea also contains a powerful analgesic alkaloid named pukateine which has a chemical structure similar to morphine. It was used to cure skin diseases and to soothe the digestive tract and ease toothache
Photo courtesy of Phillip Simpson