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Topic: karaka

Is part of topic Te Papa’s Bush City

kopi (Chatham Islands)
Corynocarpus laevigatus

Habit: Medium-sized tree.

Claims to fame: The kernels inside karaka fruit are poisonous when raw, but after treatment were a significant food source for Maori in many parts of the country.  Maori clearly cultivated karaka, with trees planted in lines or circles. 

Traditional uses: Before eating, the kernels had to be steamed and then flushed in running water for a lengthy period in order to remove the toxin karakin.  Poisoning can cause permanent paralysis and distortion of the body.  Traditional treatment involved gagging the victims, wrapping them in mats and burying them up to their chins (to control the distorting convulsions), while forcing water down their throats (Crowe, 2004, A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand, Penguin).  The leaves were used to heal wounds (Brooker et al., 2002, New Zealand Medicinal Plants, Reed).

Distribution/ecology: Principally coastal around the North Island and northern South Island.  Some inland occurrences in warmer parts of the country.  Many occurrences, particularly to the south, may be the result of translocation for cultivation.  Native only to New Zealand.

Relationships: The few close relatives occur in the western Pacific.

Identification: It is the most frequently encountered species with large, oval, glossy leaves.  The large, orange fruit are distinctive.

Bush City locations: The upper loop track and swing bridge.

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