Native Plant of the month - April - Taraire
Taraire are very distinctive endemic canopy trees. They have wide, oval leaves with sunken veins that give the upper leaf surface a slightly bubbly appearance - in botanical language this is called bullate. These leaves are leathery and thick and fall to the ground in drifts under trees but break down slowly, which means you often find out you are under a taraire by the delicious crunching leaves before you spot the canopy. Taraire only grow in the warmer northern parts of New Zealand and it is unusual to see them growing south of Tamaki Makaurau, but they are an important part of the canopy of forests in Northland and Auckland areas. They are often found growing in association with kauri, pohutukawa, rimu, miro, totara, and to a lesser extent towai, tanekaha and puriri.
Taraire belong to the Laurel plant family, which in New Zealand also includes tawa and pukatea, and internationally includes avocados, bay trees and cinnamon. Taraire fruit are edible to people as well as birds, although their resinous flavour is a bit of an acquired taste. The kernels of the fruit also used to be steamed or baked and eaten and this must have involved laborious effort to separate them from their tough husks.
Left: Unripe fruit, right: Ripe taraire fruit - photo by Ian Simpson (CC BY-NC)
While the fruit are a small reward for large effort as a human food source, they are a fantastic feast for birds. Only kereru and kokako are able to swallow the large fruit whole and disperse their seeds, but many other birds will also nibble at the flesh around the seeds. Kereru absolutely love taraire fruit and can form large flocks in their canopies when they are ripe so listen out for rustling and crashing in the branches during autumn.
Taraire seeds are usually very easy to germinate so you could try your hand at growing some of these trees at home. Collect a few fallen fruit, scrape away the flesh and sow them just under the surface of some potting mix in a seed tray or pot. Young seedlings and other new growth have a fuzzy coat of orangey hairs. Taraire like to grow in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer, but is also