Piwakawaka MiniTe Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Toromiro [Proto-Eastern Polynesian, partly derived from PPN *Milo]



Prumnopitys ferruginea [formerly Podocarpus ferrugineus]

Other inherited names: Miro (main entry - see separate page)

The name "Toromiro" is related to an older term, inherited by Maori as "Miro", and in New Zealand referring to the same tree. It is of Proto Eastern Polynesian origin, that is, as far as we can tell, it was first used by the Polynesians who left Samoa for the Eastern Pacific, eventually colonizing Tahiti, the Marquesas, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand and the other islands in this huge region.

In Tahiti it refers to the (northern) Polynesian miro (or milo), Thespesia populnea, with its beautifully-grained hard wood which was prized for building canoes and carving, and had a special status as a sacred tree, with its branches used in religious ceremonies. In traditional Tahitian religion, a priest holding a branch of the sacred toromiro could communicate directly with the gods.

In Rapanui (Easter Island), the word toromiro refers to what looks like quite a different tree, closely related and very similar in appearance to our large-leaved kowhai (Sophora tetraptera). However, this too was the tree which was prized by the people for qualities very much like those of the Thespesia, and its wood (now obtained from Chile, where Sophora toromiro also grows natively) is still used in Rapanui carving. Seeds from the last indigenous Toromiro tree still alive on Easter Island were salvaged by Thor Heyerdahl on the Kon Tiki expedition, and these seeds have enabled the slow process revegetation with this species to begin on the island.

There is more information and commentary on both the words miro and toromiro, and the plants associated with these names, in the entry for miro.


Miro branchlets

PEP: *Toromiro (A tree - see notes)

Rapanui: Toromiro (Sophora toromiro)
Tahitian: Miro (Thespesia populnea as a sacred tree)
Rarotongan: Toromiro (Leucaena forsteri & Schleinitzia insularum)

Location in the Language Garden

The oldest Miro (Toromiro), planted about 1979, is located in area SE-29. That is, the area between the oak tree and the olive trees bordering the third driveway from the road on the southern side of the main driveway. It is still mainly in its juvenile phase (the photograph is of one of its lower branchlets). We have two miro seedlings, given by Dr Ngapare Hopa and Mr Ted Douglas, respectively, in memory of Nena. Because of the drought (2007/8) they are still in their pots awaiting a permanent location.

A note on the Rarotongan toromiro. Like the Rapanui toromiro, Leucaena forsteri is a leguminous tree, but I have not yet been able to find an image or any additional information about it. Schleinitzia insularum is another leguminous tree quite widely distributed in the tropical Pacific, and seems to play a role in forest regeneration. However, I have not yet found anything in the way of images or detailed descriptions of this species.

Further readings: See the page for Miro.

Hue flower

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