*Tala-qa-moa [Proto Polynesian]
Caesalpinia sp., esp. C. bonduc (Caesalpiniaceae)
From PROTO POLYNESIAN *Tala-qa-moa, a combimation of Proto-Polynesian *tala "sharp-pointed object: spine, prong, cock's spur" and *moa "domestic fowl".

Tongan: talatala'āmoa (Caesalpinia bonduc, Caesalpinaceae)
Niuean: talamoa (Caesalpinia major, Caesalpinaceae; Achyranthes aspera "Prickly Chaff Flower", Amaranthaceae)
West Futuna: taramoa, " bramble"
Hawaiian: [ākala (Rubus hawaiensis & R. Macraei, Rosaceae); kākalaioa (Caesalpinia bonduc, Caesalpinaceae)]
Tahitian: tataraamoa (Caesalpinia bonduc, Caesalpinaceae)
Rarotongan: tātarāmoa (Caesalpinia major, Caesalpinaceae)
Maori: taramoa , tātara-a-moa (Rubus cissoides, R. australis & other native Rubus spp., "Bush lawyers", Rosaceae)

Caesalpinia bonduc - *Tala-qa-Moa
Midway Atoll, Hawai'i (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)
Seed spike of Achyranthes aspera - Talamoa (Niuean)
Maui, Hawai'i (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)

*Tōtara. In Tahiti and other parts of Eastern Polynesia the reflexes of this name refer to the spiny puffer fish, Diodon hystrix. In Aotearoa however the name totara designates an important forest tree, Podocarpus totara, and a number of other trees and shrubs with sharp-pointed leaves.

Caes majorTala a moa means literally "a rooster's spur". The original and archetypical plants to acquire this name seem to have been two closely related species of scrambling littoral shrubs, Caesalpinia bonduc and C. major. They have vicious spines, but are rather floppy plants which can grow taller when they have other vegetation to support them. Their natural environment is coastal shrubland, and they are well adapted to withstand arid conditions. In favourable settings Caesalpinia bonduc can climb to about 30 metres. The marble-like seeds can float for long distances, and are used in Hawaii for lei making. Although C. bonduc may be a Polynesian introduction to Hawaii, it is found wild in dry, open disturbed areas, whereas the endemic species of Caesalpinia are now quite rare. Apart from their use as toys and beads, the seeds when powdered have medicinal uses, including being the basis for a strong purgative.

TaramoaThe Hawaiian Rubus species are scrambling, woody deciduous vines much like the widely dispersed cultivated varieties of raspberries and blackberries. R. hawaiensis and R. macraei are endemic to Hawaii, mildly thorny when young but older plants lose the prickles; the fruit is succulent and edible but rather bitter when compared with exotic commercial varieties of raspberry. The pink juice traditionally was used in the dying of tapa. Their Hawaiian name is only partly cognate with those in the other Polynesian languages which inherited the name *tala-'a-moa for this group of thorny plants: it retains the thorn or spur, but the chicken (moa) has flown. Their New Zealand counterparts, however (described and illustrated on the linked page), retain both elements of the name. The New Zealand species are mostly vigorous climbers, but one species, Rubus parvus (illustrated left) is a tangled and prickly ground cover.

Achyranthes aspera is a geographically widely distributed herb, although not common in most of tropical Polynesia where it may be native, except Hawaii, where it is a Euro-American introduction and relatively abundant. Its leaves are up to 7 cm or more long and the plant grows to about a metre and a half high, with its inflorescence in a terminal spike about 10 to 40 cm long. This produces hooked fruits designed to be dispersed by whatever comes in contact with them. These will have been responsible for its Niuean name. W. A. Whistler notes that its seeds adhere readily to feathers, and it is frequently found in places frequented by sea birds. In Tonga its leaves are traditionally rubbed on cuts to prevent infections or tetanus. In both Tonga and Samoa its leaves softened over fire may be applied to circumcision wounds.

Rubus hawaiensis - ākala (Hawaiian)
Polipoli, Maui, Hawaii (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)
Rubus macraei - ākala (Hawaiian)
Pu'u Nianiau, Maui, Hawaii (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)
Seed pods of Caesalpinia bonduc - *Tala-qa-Moa
Lido Beach, Florida, USA (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)
Caesalpinia bundoc in flower - *Tala-qa-Moa
(Photo: Reynaldo Aguilar)
Further information : There is information on Achyranthes aspera in W. Arthur Whistler's Wayside Plants of the Islands, p. 21, and also a page on the Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, and an invasive plants factsheet, with excellent photographs, on the BioNET web site. Its medicinal properties are mentioned in W.A. Whistler's Tongan Herbal Medicine. There is a fact sheet about Rubus hawaiensis on the Native Plants of Hawaii web site. The Useful Tropical Plants web site has an interesting fact sheet on Caesalpinia bundoc; there is more information about this species in W.A. Whistler, The Samoan Rainforest, and Wagner et al. Manual of the Flowering plants of Hawai'i (p. 647). C. major is described and illustrated on the Cook Islands Biodiversity Database site. (See Bibliography for full publication details.)
Photographs: The photos by Forest and Kim Starr are from their Plants of Hawaii database. The photograph by Reynaldo Aguilar is from the Useful Tropical Plants web site. The inset photograph of Caesalpinia major is from the Cook Islands Biodiversity database, and that of Rubus parvus is used with permission from Jeremy Rolfe, NZ Plant Conservation Network.

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