Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History (Softback Edition)

Philip Simpson

Author: Philip Simpson
Format: Softback (paperback)
Pages: 300
Published: November 2019
Specs: 26.0cm x 22.4cm
ISBN: 9781869409067

Available in Ebook

A new softback edition of this modern classic of our most renowned tree, the tōtara. A wonder of evolution, the big tree of the forest, the wood behind Māori carving and Pākehā fence posts: the ‘mighty tōtara’ is New Zealand’s tree and this book tells its story.

The ‘mighty tōtara’ is one of our most extraordinary trees. Among the biggest and oldest trees in the New Zealand forest, the heart of Māori carving and culture, trailing no. 8 wire as fence posts on settler farms, clambered up in the Pureora protests of the 1980s: the story of New Zealand can be told through tōtara.

Simpson tells that story like nobody else could. In words and pictures, through waka and leaves, farmers and carvers, he takes us deep inside the trees: their botany and evolution, their role in Māori life and lore, their uses by Pākehā, and their current status in our environment and culture. By doing so, Simpson illuminates the natural world and the story of Māori and Pākehā in this country.

Our largest trees, the kauri Tāne Mahuta and the tōtara Pouakani, are both thought to be around 1000 years old. They were here before we humans were and their relatives will probably be here when we are gone. Tōtara has been central to life in this country for thousands of years. This book tells a great tree’s story, and that is our story too.


More about Philip Simpson


Read an extract here

Awards and Nominations

Shortlisted – Illustrated Non-Fiction Award – 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards



This excellent publication is a book for all to enjoy, the well written text is supported with a variety of photographs... It can be picked up time and time again to be reread and devoured. - Lesley McIntosh, Booksellers NZ

Philip Simpson tells us more than just a few names of famous totara trees throughout Aotearoa, he tells us the story of this grand forest being and how it has impacted New Zealand since humans first landed upon our shores. - NZ Herald 

Golden Bay botanist Philip Simpson knows his trees. He is the tree man. He is the root of all knowledge on trees, the first and last word on trees, the guy who puts trees on the map – he is the author of the magnificent book Dancing Leaves: The Story of New Zealand’s Cabbage Tree, Tī Kōuka (2000), the author of the magnificent book Pōhutukawa and Rātā: New Zealand’s Iron-hearted Trees (2005), and now the author of the magnificent new book published by Auckland University Press, Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History. - The Spinoff