A fine evergreen tree in the wild, 40 to 80 ft, sometimes 100 ft high, with a trunk 6 to 18 ft in girth, clothed with thick, furrowed, stringy bark; young shoots glabrous, furrowed. Leaves leathery, stiff, linear with a sharp hard point, quite glabrous, dull green, often tinged with brown, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. long, 1⁄12 to 1⁄8 in. wide; not stalked. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Male flowers cylindrical, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, axillary, solitary or two or three together at the top of a very short stalk. Female flowers axillary, solitary or in pairs. Fruit-stalk usually much enlarged, red, succulent, swelling out as large as a cherry and bearing one or two roundish seeds at the top.
Native of New Zealand, where it occurs throughout North Island; in South Island it is said to have its main distribution to the east of the divide, as far south as S.E. Otago; for altitudinal distribution see below. Owing to the confusion between this species and P. hallii the date of introduction is not known, but Lawson of Edinburgh was offering potted plants under the name P. totara in 1847. In New Zealand its timber is extremely valuable, being straight grained, reddish, and very durable.
Large specimens of P. totara are to be found only in the mildest parts of the British Isles, where the following examples have been measured in Cornwall: Trebah, Mawnan Smith, 53 × 81⁄2 ft (1959); Enys, nr Falmouth, 59 × 5 ft (1962); Tregrehan, Par, 56 × 51⁄4 ft (1971). In Eire there is an example measuring 30 × 43⁄4 ft at the base at Ilnacullin, Garinish Island, Co. Cork.
cv. ‘Aureus’. – Leaves golden.
P. hallii Kirk P. totara var. hallii (Kirk) Pilger; ? P. cunninghamii Col. – Very closely akin to P. totara, this tree is of smaller stature and only from 25 to 60 ft high; the bark, too, is thinner and papery and, according to Kirk, it is easily detached in large sheets. When young it is very distinct in its foliage, some of the largest leaves being 13⁄4 in. long by 1⁄4 in. wide, sharply pointed and linear-lanceolate in shape. On adult trees they become smaller, only 1⁄2 to 1 in. long and 1⁄8 in. wide, and more abruptly pointed. On young trees the leaves are mostly arranged distichously, i.e., in two opposite rows; on older ones all round the shoot. The branching of young trees is also looser and weaker. The flowers do not differ greatly from those of P. totara, and there seems to be no reliable difference between the two species in their adult leaves. But the seeds differ, those of P. totara being obtuse or rounded at the apex, while in P. hallii they are narrow-ovoid and acute at the apex. Intermediate forms are said to occur.
Native of North and South Islands and of Stewart Island. Between this species and P. totara there is considerable overlap in distribution and the two may occur together in the same forest. But, according to Cockayne, P. hallii occurs generally at higher altitudes than its relative and is sometimes found in stunted form in subalpine forest. Its timber is similar to that of P. totara, but not of such high quality.
P. acutifolius Kirk – A small erect shrub, slenderly branched, with linear leaves 5⁄8 to 1 in. long, tapered at the apex to a slender, spine-tipped point, dull green, gold-green or brownish green above, the underside paler, with two fairly distinct bands of stomata; midrib not raised on either surface. Native of the South Island of New Zealand.