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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.
All the noteworthy specimens of this species grow in Cornwall: Trebah, 66 × 10 ft (1984); Enys, 71 × 61⁄2 ft (1977); Tregrehan, 60 × 53⁄4 ft (1979); Menabilly, 66 × 61⁄4 ft (1984); Bosahan, 47 × 61⁄4 ft and 49 × 6 ft (1985).
P. acutifolius – In the wild this species sometimes makes a small tree to about 30 ft high. A specimen at Castlewellan, Co. Down, planted as P. acutifolius and agreeing well with it, is 25–30 ft high.
P. acutifolius agrees in its essential characters with P. lawrencei of Tasmania and is included in it by de Laubenfels (see P. alpinus above).
P. hallii – The earlier name P. cunninghamii Colenso was not taken up in Allan’s Flora of New Zealand on the grounds that the description and specimen were not sufficient to justify discarding Kirk’s P. hallii. Cheeseman included P. cunninghamii in P. totara, with which it agrees better in foliage, though Colenso’s description of the bark suggests P. hallii. However, the name P. cunninghamii is used. in place of P. hallii by de Laubenfels (op. cit.).
P. totara var. hallii (Kirk) Pilger
? P. cunninghamii Col