Gymnosperm Database
Link to jump to start of content Home Topics Bookstore Links Site Map Contact Us

Search the Database


Foliage illustration (Kirk 1889).


Mature Tree at Central Hut, Whirinaki Forest [C.J. Earle, 2003.03].


Bark on a 70 cm diameter tree in Auckland Botanical Garden [C.J. Earle, 2003.02].


Foliage from the tree at Central Hut, shown above [C.J. Earle, 2003.03].


Seed in integument (Webb and Simpson 2001.


Distribution map (Metcalf 2002).


Large tree along trail in Whirinaki Forest [C.J. Earle, 2003.03].


Tree 193 cm DBH in Whirinaki Forest [C.J. Earle, 2003.03].


Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional

Conservation status

Prumnopitys taxifolia

(Banks et Solander ex D. Don) de Laubenfels 1978

Common names

Matai (Maori), black pine (Salmon 1996).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Dacrydium taxifolium Banks et Solander ex D. Don 1837; Dacrydium mai A. Cunn. 1838; Podocarpus spicatus R. Br. in Horsfield 1838; Nageia spicata (R. Br.) F. Muell. 1876; Stachycarpus spicatus (R. Br.) Tiegh. 1891 (Farjon 1998).


Dioecious tree up to 25 m tall and 125 cm dbh with a broad crown held on stout, erect, spreading branches. It forms a round-headed tree when mature which becomes more open and spreading as it ages. In the forest, matai trees can be recognised most easily from their bark. Grey-brown and punctate, it flakes off in thick rounded or ovoid chunks which leave reddish blotches on the trunk. The bark is commonly described as having a 'hammered' appearance, as if it were beaten brass. On young trees the flakes are larger and more irregular. Juvenile trees have the form of a shrub with slender, flexible, intertwining, drooping branchlets with yellowish or brownish-green leaves 5-10 × 1-2 mm. After a number of years the adult tree grows out from the top of this shrub and then the divaricating branchlets atrophy and fall away. Adults have leaves 1-1.5 cm. × 1-2 mm., linear, straight to subfalcate, obtuse, often apiculate, coriaceous, dark green, the undersurface silvery-blue, becoming darker as the leaves age. Pollen cones are in spikes, 3-5 cm. long, 10-30 per spike, and are often borne in great profusion. Ovules are tiny, 3-10 on a spike c. 4 cm. long, on short axillary branchlets; peduncle not swollen. Most ovules do not develop to seeds. Seeds are 5-9 mm. long, subglobose, apiculus obtuse: black, drupaceous (Allan 1961, Salmon 1996, pers. obs. 2003.03).

Distribution and Ecology

New Zealand: North and South Islands (Allan 1961). Based on data from 209 collection localities, its climate preferences include a mean annual temperature of 12°C, with an average minimum in the coldest month of 3°C, and a mean annual precipitation of 1570 mm (Biffin et al. 2011, Table S5). Zone 9 (cold hardiness limit between -6.6°C and -1.1°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree

The largest known tree is near the Wakapuaka River northeast of Nelson, in an isolated pocket of primeval forest. It is 32.00 m tall (laser measurement) and 193.2 cm dbh, as of 2010.12.23 (Notable Trees of New Zealand 2011). Another tree in the same stand is nearly as large, and is likely the second-largest living matai.

Another tree, near the observation tower at Pureora Forest Park, is 168 cm dbh and 32.6 m tall. This tree is located at 38.50652° S, 175.59175° E (Robert Van Pelt e-mail, 2003.01.27). A specimen 23 m tall and 235 cm dbh grew at Hari Hari, Lake Ianthe, Westland (Burstall and Sale 1984), but was damaged and removed in the early 2000's (Brad Cadwallader email 2011.01.01).


Burns et al. (1999) report an age of 1,358 years for a tree at the Paengaroa Scenic Reserve, near Taihape on the North Island. This was based on a ring-counted core with extrapolation to the geometric center of the tree, which is probably a reasonably accurate approach for this species. The tree was in an old-growth mixed forest in an area with a relatively dry, cool forest, that also yielded a 716-year-old specimen of Dacrycarpus dacrydioides.

Sparks et al. (1995) found a subfossil specimen with a 411-year tree-ring record.


The species poses problems because is subject to ring wedging. "Ring wedging occurs when rapid radial growth occurs over several years in certain segments of the tree's circumference, while being extremely slow or absent in others... Examination of complete cross sections can help overcome this problem, and for some species accurate age counts must be based on cross sections rather than increment cores" (Norton and Ogden 1990). The species has seen limited use in a radiocarbon calibration study (Sparks et al. 1995).


The wood is brown, heavy, very hard and brittle with a close, attractive grain. It is exceptionally strong and durable, much used for flooring and weatherboarding. It is also used, to a lesser extent, in the manufacture of furniture (Salmon 1996).


The species is fairly common in native forests of the North Island, at elevations from sea level up to about 500 m. The finest examples I have seen are in Pureora and Whirinaki Forest Parks, where it can be seen along virtually any trail. I particularly recommend the track along the Whirinaki River south of Minginui, and the 'Hunter's Track' in Pureora, where it grows with rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), totara (Podocarpus totara), and miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea) in a pristine, very old forest with complex structure.


"Briggs and Loe (J. Chem. Soc. March 1950, 958-959) examined material of P. spicatus from the centre of North Island and found no kaurene, 'the only diterpene isolated was phyllocladene in very small yield'. Butler and Holloway (J. Soc. Chem. Ind. 58, 1939, 223) from South Island material isolated a diterpene which they suggested was kaurene. Briggs, Cawley, Loe and Taylor (J. Chem. Soc. March 1950, 956) examined a sample of Butler and Holloway's isolation, and 'It proved to be laevo-rotatory whilst the Debye-Scherer diagram indicated that it was mixture of kaurene and isokaurene'. No clear-cut morphological differences between the plants of North and of South Island have been found" (Allan 1961).


Burns, B.R., M.C. Smale, and M.F. Merrett. 1999. Dynamics of kahikatea forest remnants in middle North Island: implications for threatened and local plants. Science for Conservation 113. Wellington, NZ: Department of Conservation. 23 pp. Available:, accessed 2014.08.25.

Notable Trees of New Zealand. 2011. Database record for tree TNR/0778., accessed 2011.01.03.

See also

Gymnosperms of New Zealand.

The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, accessed 2010.11.22.

Salmon 1996.

Wardle, P. 2001. Holocene forest fires in the upper Clutha district, Otago, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 39:523-542. Available: Wardle 2001, accessed 2009.03.22.

Last Modified 2014-08-26