Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
Planchonella (Pouteria) spp., [Sapotaceae].
From PROTO OCEANIC *kalaka (Planchonella spp.)


This name has been used to denote a local species of the genus Planchonella in many Oceanic languages. The botanical classification of the trees has been disputed over the decades, and the species have been shifted between the related genera Planchonella and Pouteria several times in recent years, and will be found under one classification or the other in different works. Fortunately, there seems to be general agreement about the family (Sapotaceae). The status of the species is also a subject of controversy, because of the variability in the form of individual plants -- the native New Zealand and Fijian plants have been grouped together as a single species, Planchonella costata by some botanists, on occasions along with the Polynesian species noted here under the name P. grayana, and regarded as separate species by others. They are forest trees, with individual mature plants of the found in both the canopy and subcanopy. In New Zealand, Planchonella is found mostly in coastal areas in Northland, Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast regions.

The trees have a milky sap, and conspicuous leaves and even more conspicuous large berries with change gradually from green to bright red as they ripen.The tree also has a milky latex sap. It is not at all surprising that the early Polynesians mistook the New Zealand karaka, Corynocarpus laevigatus, for its tropical namesake. The trees are in their general appearance at all stages of growth very much look-alikes. The nature of the fruit is different, however. Desptite their attractive appearance the Pouteria fruit are not really edible, although Malcolm Ross reports that on the island of Santo Planchonella fruits are sometimes roasted and eaten after being washed to remove the latex (Lexicon, Vol. 3, p.203). If this was also done occasionally in Polynesia, it would have been a useful practice in the preparation of the Corynocarpus fruits, whose kernels were an important food source, but had to be heated and washed first to remove the powerful toxic glycoside they contained. (They also had the precedent of the "Tahitian chestnut", Inocarpus fagifer, which requires similar treatment to make it edible.)

Chariessa samoensis, which also has been given a name derived from *kalaka, is a small forest tree growing from 3 to 8 metres high and found in lowland and high altitudes. I have not been able to find any photographs of it. The Rarotongan Elaeocarpus is a relation of the New Zealand hinau, and like the Planchonellas and the other "*kalaka" trees, has large, conspicuous fruits and striking foliage.

Tongan: Kalaka (Planchonella grayana)
Niuean: Kalaka (P. grayana)
Samoan: Ala'a (P. garberi, & Chariessa samoensis [Icacinaceae])
Hawaiian: 'äla'a (P. sandwicensis)
Tuamotuan: Karaka (P. grayana)
Rarotongan: Karaka (P. grayana & Elaeocarpus rarotongensis [Elaeocarpaceae])
Maori: Karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus [Corynocarpaceae] & Karakariki (Streblus heterophyllus [Moraceae])

Alaa flowersPouteria sandwicensis: in flower

Alaa fruitPouteria sandwicensis unripe fruit

Karaka fruitCorynocarpus laevigatus ripe fruit

Alaa seedlingPouteria sandwicensis seedling

Alaa treePouteria sandwicensis young tree

Further information. The Cook Islands biodiversity database

http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=6094 Elaeocarpus info

http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=6572 Pouteria info & picture

Source of photographs: Karaka fruits: http://www.kererudiscovery.org.nz; Pouteria sandwicensis: R.B. (the seedling was in the Kahanahäiki Forest, Oahu, Hawaï; the others are of trees in the Koke'e Forest Park, Kaua'i).

Hue flower
Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
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