*Kalaka [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto Oceanic]


Streblus heterophyllus [formerly Paratrophis microphylla] (Moraceae)


Related inherited name: karaka (see separate page)

From Proto Polynesian *Kalaka, Planchonella (Pouteria) spp. (Moraceae) + riki (from Proto-Austronesian *dikit "small"

Juvenile foliage of Streblus heterophylla Tūrepo, Kalakariki
Te Māra Reo
Ficus tinctoria Mati
Vava'u, Tonga

Tongan: Kalaka (Planchonella grayana)
Niuean: Kalaka (P. grayana)
Samoan: Ala'a (P. garberi, & Chariessa samoensis [Icacinaceae])
Hawaiian: 'āla'a (P. sandwicensis)
Tuamotuan: Karaka (P. grayana)
Rarotongan: Karaka (P. grayana & Elaeocarpus rarotongensis [Elaeocarpaceae])

Tūrepo (this name seems to have originated in Aotearoa).

Mati, the Samoan generic name for three native species of the genus Ficus, Ficus scabra (mati vao), Ficus tinctoria, and Ficus uniauriculata (found natively only in Samoa). These belong to the same family as the Tūrepo, and likewise have a milky sap. There is also one Samoan species of the genus Streblus, for which no local name has been recorded. The word mati as a Polynesian plant name primarily relates to certain species of Ficus, but its range has been interestingly expanded by a process similar to that by which Streblus heterophyllus came to be associated with the tropical kalaka -- see notes below.

Watch this space! This page is still under construction. However, it contains the essential linguistic and botanical information, to which more text and pictures will be added progressively as soon as time permits. See the first item in the "News" page for more information.

This tree is more commonly known as the tūrepo or "milk tree". Its alternative name, however, incorporates the inherited element karaka, and literally means "little karaka". This may well be a reference to the "original" karaka, i.e. one of the trees of the genus Planchonella (a.k.a. Pouteria) which are referred to by a reflex of Proto Oceanic *kalaka in many Oceanic languages.

The tūrepo is a tree with small, thick serrated leaves with conspicuous veins on the underside which show through to the upper surface; the veins are also visible on the upper surface, but otherwise the karakariki leaves are quite different from the large glossy green leaves of the Planchonella species and the New Zealand karaka, Corynocarpus laevigatus. However berries are like miniature versions of those of the other trees, and both the planchonellas and the tūrepo have a milky latex in their sap. Because of this, it is possible that the alternative name was given to Streblus heterophyllus in a direct reference to those parallels with the Planchonella species.

The tūrepo / karakariki grows to about 9 metres high, and prefers moist areas on the margins of the forest and along streams and riverbanks. The early European settlers in New Zealand found that its sap was a patatable substitute for milk in tea, hence the English name "milk tree".

The three species of Streblus found in Aotearoa are the only indigenous representatives of the family Moraceae (the fig and mulberry family) here. The genus is also found in Samoa, as are three native species of Ficus, each of which has fruit reminiscent of the domestic fig, Ficus carica. The Samoan Ficus species are known collectively as mati, which is of special interest because it is one of the very few local plant names which appears in Samoan translations of the Bible. It is also the name by which Ficus tinctoria (the "dyers fig") is known in Rarotonga, with the derived form matimati denoting Streblus anthropophagorum, a close relation of the Tūrepo, with leaves and milky latex sap reminiscent of the mati fig, and possibly acquiring its name by the same process of association of salient features that resulted in the tūrepo being given the alternative name karakariki. The root-word mati also denotes Ficus tinctoria in the Austral Isles, the Tuamotus, Futuna, and the Tokelaus, and Ficus scabra and Ficus godeffroyi in Niue, with the cognate term masi refering to the same species in Tonga. Most of these places lie within the natural distribution of Ficus tinctoria. Aotearoa is outside this range, but the word has been inherited in the form māti, referring to the fruit of the native fuchsia, Fuchsia excorticata. However, the Bible translators in most Polynesian languages chose either the Greek suke or adaptations of English fig to denote Ficus carica. Nonetheless the the translators into Niuean folowed the Samoan precedent and chose mati to represent the Biblical fig tree.


References and further reading: The NZ Plant Conservation Network has a page with information about the Tūrepo, including several photographs. See also the general works on NZ and Samoan trees in the bibliography.

Photographs: The one photograph of the Tūrepo is from Te Mara Reo, when our tree, now a couple of metres high, was a seedling. More will be added, ā te wā. The photograph of Ficus tinctoria is by Tau'olunga of Tonga, a contributor to Wikipedia.

Reserved for photograph - yet to come
(Aroha mai!)
Reserved for photograph - yet to come
(Aroha mai!)

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