The mighty New Zealand Kauri tree

One of my favourite trees is Agathis australis, more commonly known as the kauri tree. Whilst California has the giant sequoias, the kauri is New Zealand’s behemoth. Whilst they may only grow 50m tall, they can grow up to 4m in diameter. The largest is Tane Mahuta, Maori for “Lord of the Forest”, and is supposedly somewhere between 1250-2500 years old.

Tane Mahuta

Don’t let the name Agathis australis fool you though, these pine trees are only found in New Zealand, and then only in the warmer northwestern portion of the north island. There were thousands of acres of Kauri trees before the arrival of the British. however they where quickly depleted. They were  considered a valuable resource for ships spars and masts, and also for their gum (used as a fire starter and to make chewing gum). The Maori in the northern regions used these great trees to build waka taua, or sea-going canoes. It is an interesting pine, mainly because it is not the sort of conifer we are use to seeing in north American, partially because the leaves are flat, oblong and leathery.

The wood is light, strong, and apparently easily worked. In J.C.S. Brough’s book “Timbers for Woodwork”, he describes the grain as being able to “respond to every turn of the tool”. The wood is  whitish-brown and has a clear, firm, and even texture. In “The Forest Flora of New Zealand” published in 1890, the author Thomas Kirk cites that Kauri was “the best timber in the colony for general building purposes, ground-plates, beams, framing, rafters, joists, flooring, and weather-boards; also for open roof-work, dadoing, panelling, mouldings, sashes, doors, and all kinds of joiners’ work“, “railway sleepers, bridges, wharves, and constructive work generally“. Basically it was used for everything. Now like many of it’s cousins brought to the verge of extinction, it is rare to find.

If you’re in NZ, visit the Waipoua Kauri Forest, or maybe the Kauri Museum. You can get Kauri lumber in the US from Ancientwood Ltd, which recovers 45,000 years old Kauri logs in NZ buried in peat.

 

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