Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Limu [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto-Oceanic *limut "Generic name for moss, algae and seaweeds" - fusion of Proto Malayo Polynesian *limu "seeweed" and *lumut "moss, lichens"]

Rimu, rimurimu


Generic term for seaweeds, mosses and lichens; also Dacrydium cupressinum (Podocarpaceae)


In Mäori, rimu denotes both the tree Dacrydium cupressinum, and also functions as a generic name for mosses, lycopods ("club mosses") and seaweeds. The reduplicated form, rimurimu, is used primarily for seaweeds and mosses, and also for mildew.

Although the word itself is derived from an ancient generic term for mosses, algae and seaweeds, a meaning which is retained in most cognate words in other languages, and is retained also in Maori, it is not hard to see why its meaning was extended to the rimu, whose foliage does look as if it would be equally appropriate on an underwater plant, or as the form of a soft coral (which is one of the meanings of the word in Hawaiian).

The rimu is a tall forest tree, growing from 20-30 metres or higher, which was used in the manufacture of weapons, especially heavy-duty long spears, and for a variety of medicinal purposes. After European settlement it became a major source of timber for the frames of houses and for making high-grade furniture -- rimu furniture is still highly esteemed, but strict conservation measures are now in force because of the gross over-exploitation of this resource. In the past, practically every part of the tree has had important uses -- Murdoch Riley notes that Captain Cook's crew used rimu branchlets mixed with manuka twigs and molasses to make a beer (Herbal, p. 420), and more recently to clarify and flavour home brew. Not only is the foliage of young trees reminiscent of a feathery seaweed, but the red sap is said to have come from the blood of Tunuroa, a dreaded water monster (ibid.).

An alternative name for rimu in the Rotorua area is puaka. This would seem to be related to the name puakarimu (which came first is a matter of conjecture), which denotes a lycopod, Lycopodium deuterodensum, which itself looks very like either a seedling rimu tree, or a land-based feathery seaweed.

There was a good photograph by M. Fagg of the puakarimu Lycopodium deuterodensum on the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH) web site, but the last time we checked the page had disappeared.

Further information, with photographs, about Lycopodium deuterodensum can be found on the NZ Plant Conservation Network and University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences websites; the NZPCN and University sites also have pages devoted to the rimu tree (Dacrydium cupressinum). The Encyclopedia on New Zealand / Te Aro website has a highly informative series of pages about the New Zealand seaweeds.

Rimu - detail
Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) foliage.

PPN: *Limu Generic term for mosses and seaweeds. (class)
Mäori Reflex: Rimu (Seaweeds, lichens, mosses, lycopods; Dacrydium cupressinum [Podocarpaceae]); rimurimu (seaweed, moss (generic); mildew).

Tongan:Limu (Seaweed, moss)
Niuean: Limu (Seaweed, moss)
Samoan: Limu (Seaweed, moss)
Rapanui: Limu (A seaweed sp., beached & dried)
Tahitian: Rimu (Seaweed, moss, lichen)
Marquesan: 'imu (Seaweed, loss, lichen)
Hawaiian: Limu (Seaweed, moss)
Tuamotuan: Rimu (Seaweed, moss; "moss-like hair")
Rarotongan: Rimu (Moss, seaweed)

Note: (If needed).

Rimu - detail


Source of photographs: Te Mära Reo.


Hue flower

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