Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
Cyathea and probably other tree fern species, [Cyatheaceae & other families].
PROTO POLYNESIAN from PROTO OCEANIC *bala, Cyathea and Cycas (Cycadaceae) species, through PROTO REMOTE OCEANIA *bala ~ *bwala, Cyathea spp.


It seems that this term originally designated cycads and tree ferns generally, with the focus shifting to tree ferns in Remote Oceania. These would have included especially the cycad Cycas bougainvilleana which is found the core Oceanic regions of New Britain, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomons, and the tree fern Cyathea contaminans, which is widespread throughout this area, as well as being found elsewhere in New Guinea and in Indonesia the Philippines and Vietnam.

In Eastern Polynesia it seems to have narrowed to designating ferns of the closely related genera Marattia and Ptisana, and their edible roots. In Aotearoa both meanings are retained, and by analogy the range of meanings was extended also to include a range of edible roots (see the linked page for details, and some further notes about the etymology of this term). It is only the extended meaning which survived on Easter Island, where the term para came to designate a wetland moss which was used for medicine and food. The cognate terms seem similarly to have been applied primarily to a particular root (very likely that of Ptisana salicina) eaten as a famine food in Tahiti and the Marquesas.

A recent revision of the botanical family Marattiacea based on molecular evidence has separated the New Zealand fern formerly known as Marattia salicina from the genus Marattia and also combined related ferns in New Caledonia, the Society Islands, Norfolk Island and the Marquesas with it as a single species, Ptisana salicina. The Hawaiian Marattia remains in that genus.

Niuean: Para (Generic term for several species of fern)
Rapanui: Para (Campylopus turficola [Dicranaceae])
Tahitian: Para (? Ptisana / Marattia salicina [Marattiaceae] "A root eaten in times of scarcity")
Marquesan: Pa'a (? Ptisana / Marattia salicina. "A kind of fern eaten in times of scarcity")
Hawaiian: Pala (Marattia douglasii [Marattiaceae])
Rarotongan: Para (Ptisana [Marattia] salicina)
Maori: Para (Ptisana [Marattia] salicina [Marattiaceae])

Related Word: *Pala-tao "A large fern"

Cycas bourgainvilleana Cycas bourgainvilleana

Cycas bourgainvilleana

Cycas bourgainvilleana

Above: A young plant of Marattia douglasii (pala), K. Lynch nursery, Waianae, O'ahu, Hawai'i. (Like its New Zealand namesake, the para (Ptisana salicina), the roots of this fern are prime targets for feral pigs.)

Left: Cyathea contaminans, Kaeng Krachen National Park, Thailand.

Further information: Information about Cycas bourgainvilleana can be found on the Sydney Botanical Garden's "Cycad Pages". There is an account of the name changes affecting the family Marattiaceae, with further references, in a comprehensive article by Maarten Christenhusz on the Tree of Life web site: http://tolweb.org/Marattiaceae/134249. See also the page on Para (link in the etymology section) for further information on Ptisana (ex Marattia) salicifolia.
Photographs: Cycas bourgainvilleana: Ken Hill, Royal Botanical Garden, Sydney; Cyathea contaminans: Prof. Christian Puff, University of Vienna; Marattia douglasii: RB.

Hue flower

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