tawa: From a Proto Eastern Malayan-Polynesian word for Beilschmiedia tawa, which is thought to have originally come from New Guinea. The modern Maori word tawa 'to be purple' is probably derived from the purple fruits of this tree
Current Conservation Status
2012 - Not Threatened
Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB
Previous Conservation Status
2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened
Beilschmiedia tawa (A.Cunn.) Benth. et Hook.f. ex Kirk
Common canopy tree with a tall dark single trunk. Leaves thin, narrow, gradually tapering to base and the pointed tip, yellowish when young, when mature drooping, glossy, pale underneath. Flowers in yellowish sprays. Fruit very large, dark purple, glossy, containing a large large elliptical seed.
Vascular - Native
The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank
is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.
Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs
Laurus tawa A.Cunn., Nesodaphne tawa (A.Cunn.) Hook.f., Laurus victoriana Colenso, Beilschmiedia tawaroa A.E.Wright
Endemic. Common throughout the North Island. In the South Island common from Cape Farewell east through the Marlborough Sounds. Extending south of their only in the east where it almost reaches Kaikoura (the southern limit is just north of the main town).
Major canopy dominant in the lowland and lower montane forests of the North Island and northern South island. May form pure stands but usually occurs in close association with podocarps such as rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum).
Evergreen tree up to 35 m tall. Trunk straight, 1.2-2 m diam., with buttressed base. Bark smooth, dark brown. Branches erect to spreading, slender to moderately robust. Young branchlets, leaves and inflorescences finely pubescent, hairs simple, pale golden. Foliage opposite to sub-opposite, simple, somewhat leathery when mature. Petioles (6-)8(-12) mm. Leaves (30-)40-80(-95) x (8-)11-16(-40) mm, narrowly to broadly lanceolate sometimes elliptic, yellow-green to green, glabrous when mature, undersides glaucous. margins entire, and undulate, apex acute to acuminate. Inflorescences, an erect, axillary panicle up to 100 mm long. Flowers sexually perfect, 2-4 mm diam, pale green, perianth cleft into 6 segments, ovate-oblong, stamens 12. Fruit a pendulous, ellipsoid to ovoid drupe (20-)30(-38) x (9-)12(-18) mm, 1-seeded, pericarp fleshy, dark purple-black when ripe, glaucous or shiny.
A very distinct species. The green to greenish-yellow, narrow, entire, willow-like leaves with their glaucous undersides, and large plum-like, dark purple, pendulous drupes serve to immediately distinguish this from all other indigenous trees and shrubs. Some northern and northern offshore island populations differ (in some cases markedly) by their much broader, sometimes slightly bullate dark-green leaves.
(October-) January (-May)
(December-) January (-March)
Easy from fresh seed. Better germination is achieved if the flesh surrounding the seed is cleaned off.
Life Cycle and Dispersal
Fleshy drupes are dispersed by frugivory (Thorsen et al., 2009).
Where To Buy
Sold by a number of mainline and specialist native plant nurseries.
Beilschmiedea tawaroa A.E. Wright described by Wright (1984), is not upheld here because it is not ecologically distinct, there is gradation between these large-leaved variants and normal tawa (B. tawa), and because aside from leaf width there are no other consistent distinguishing characters (de Lange & Cameron 1999). Plants with B. tawaroa characters - as defined by Wright (1984) have now been found as far south as Mt Taranaki and Mahia Peninsula.
Tawa is thought to have been domesticated in New Guinea and spread with Austroneasian explorers. The name 'tawa' is a Proto Eastern Malayan-Polynesian and the modern Maori word tawa 'to be purple' is probably derived from the purple fruits of this tree. There is much more information about the domestication and uses of this species on the website Te Mara Reo - The Language Garden.
Fact sheet prepared for NZPCN by P.J. de Lange 12 February 2004. Description adapted from Allan (1961) and Wright (1984).
References and further reading
Allan, H.H. 1961: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. I, Wellington, Government Printer.
de Lange, P.J.; Cameron, E.K. 1999: The vascular flora of Aorangi Island, Poor Knights Islands, northern New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 37: 433-468
Moorfield, J. C. 2005: Te aka : Māori-English, English-Māori dictionary and index. Pearson Longman: Auckland
Landcare Research. Ngā Tipu Whakaoranga - Māori Plant Use Database. http://maoriplantuse.landcareresearch.co.nz
Thorsen, M. J.; Dickinson, K. J. M.; Seddon, P. J. 2009. Seed dispersal systems in the New Zealand flora. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 2009 Vol. 11 No. 4 pp. 285-309.
Wright, A. E. 1984: Beilschmiedia Nees (Lauraceae) in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 22: 109-125.
This page last updated on 25 Sep 2015