Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
A seaside tree
Proto-Rarotongan-Mäori, from PROTO AUSTRONESIAN *butun through PROTO-POLYNESIAN *futu, plus the derivative prefix *pö- and Proto-Eastern-Polynesian *kawa "bitter"


The key element in this name is the reflex of the Proto-Polynesian word *futu -- hutu in (NZ) Mäori and 'utu in Rarotongan. It is not hard to imagine why a derivative of *futu might be applied to what we now call the pöhutukawa in Aotearoa. The flowers and the form of the tree, when seen from a distance, and its dominance of the shoreline in the northern part of the country, might easily remind someone of the Barringtonia which *futu and its reflexes denote almost everywhere.

The tomentum (fur-like hairs) on the leaf of the shrubs Sophora tomentosa (Fabaceae), and Scaevola seriacea (Goodeniaceae), both called pö'utukava in Rarotonga also provide a link to its New Zealand namesake.

Their seaside location is a link between these plants and the Barringtonia -- other links with the Barringtonia were probably evident in the imagination of whoever first coined the word from which both the modern Rarotongan and (NZ) Mäori words are derived. The leaves of the Scaevola, for example, are vaguely reminiscent of the Barringtonia, although the Scaevola is a small shrub and the Barringtonia is a reasonably large tree (up to 15 metres high).

In Aotearoa the word pöhutukawa was also used to refer to a variety of kumara, but the reasons for this and the characteristics of this variety are unclear.

Rarotongan: Pö'utukava (Sophora tomentosa, & Scaevola seriacea)
Maori: Pöhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa; also a variety of Ipomoea batatas [Convolvulaceae - kumara])

Related Words: *futu


*Pohutukawa[Metrosideros excelsa in flower.]


*Sophora-tomentosa[Sophora tomentosa ]

*Scaevola-sericea[Scaevola serices]

Sources of photographs: http://www.plantcreations.com/images/Necklace_Pod_flower_02.jpg (Sophora tomentosa). Others taken by the author - at Te Mära Reo (Pöhutukawa), & Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu, Hawaii (Scaevola)

Hue flower


Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.