Maori Name: Puriri
Common Name: Puriri
Botanical Name: Vitex lucens
Lowland puriri forests were once widely found throughout the upper half of New Zealands North Island, but the tree was extensively logged to provided timber for a wide range of end uses. Puriri also tends to be associated with fertile or volcanic soils, and early settlers often sought out and burned puriri rich areas to obtain good farmland and by the mid 1940s the supply of puriri timber was almost exhausted. When logging, only the best trees were felled, leaving the gnarled twisted puriri often still found on farm paddocks. This has given the impression that puriri is incapable of growing straight, but early reports of puriri describe naturally clear trunks of up to 20 meters tall.
Puriri is an evergreen tree endemic to New Zealand. The Puriri tree can grow up to 1.5 m in diameter, often thicker, with a broad spreading crown. The thin bark is usually smooth and light brown in colour but can also be very flaky. Puriri is one of the few native trees with large colourful flowers which range from fluorescent pink to dark red, rose pink (most common) or sometimes even to a white flower with a yellow or pink blush.
Strongest and hardest of the New Zealand timbers Puriri is usually greenish dark-brown, but sometimes nearly black or streaked with yellow, it was often used for implements and structures requiring strength and durability such as paddles, handles, bridges and fencing.
- Puriri is an invaluable food source for native wildlife, as it provides both fruit and nectar in seasons when few other species produce these, thus it is often used in restoration planting
- The Maori preferred other timbers to puriri as its cross-grain made for difficult carving, but puriri garden tools and weapons had a long life and legend has it that buckshot used to ricochet off puriri palisades.
- It was used in the construction of hinaki (eel traps) because it was one of the few timbers that would sink.
- Puriri was sometimes used to dye flax fibres yellow, the sawdust can produce intense yellow stains on concrete floors.
- It also can be used as a perfume.
- The European settlers used great quantities of puriri timber for fence posts, railway sleepers, shipbuilding and house blocks, as it is ground durable without treatment for 50 years or more.
- Puriri was also favoured for furniture and decorative wood work.
The Māori used infusions from boiled leaves to bathe sprains and backache, as a remedy for ulcers, especially under the ear, and for sore
- The infusion was also used to wash the body of the deceased to help preserve it.
- Puriri was sometimes so difficult to split that timber-workers often resorted to dynamite.(Which Native Tree – Andrew Crowe).
- Puriri trees or groves were often tapu through their use as burial sites, with bodies of the deceased often being placed in the crook of a branch. Due to this the puriri has a special significance and an association with death, for example puriri leaves are fashioned in to coronets or carried in the hand during a tangi (maori funeral).
- The puriri moth or ghost moth is New Zealands largest moth, with a wing span up to 150mm. Its larvae often makes its home in the pruriri tree by excavating long hooked cavities which are a significant characteristic of working with the timber.
The cabinet draws its inspiration from:
- The action of a moth spreading its wings.
- Puriri’s use in cogs and machine beds.
- The chisel as the puriri moth larvae in the timber.
- A coffin or casket referencing the puriri as a burial tree.