Why Te Karaka Foundation?
Historically the karaka tree was a source of sustenance for early Maori settling in Taranaki. Maori legend suggests that the karaka was first planted at Papawhero on the northern bank of the Patea River. The abundance of bright berries produced by the karaka made it an appealing food supply and the tree was soon cultivated across Taranaki as new settlements formed.
The karaka tree represents the funds entrusted to support Te Karaka Foundation. The orange fruit represents the income generated from the funds to support the Taranaki community. The kereru (which represents the people of Taranaki) sits within and is sheltered by the karaka tree while it feeds on the fruit to gain the strength required to fly and take on the world.
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The story of the Karaka Tree
“Captain of the Aotea canoe, Turi, following the instructions of the great navigator, Kupe, came south 600 years ago seeking a “rich, black, sweet-scented soil”. He found it at the mouth of the Patea River. It was a promisingly fertile place, he told his people, and the soil of Patea, known as te whenua i hongia e Turi has borne the legend ever since.
Botanists may bicker, but legend tells that the karaka was unknown in New Zealand until Turi arrived in the great migration. The Aotea had called at the Kermadecs to refit during the voyage and plump seeds of karaka used as food by the islanders were collected. Turi, tradition says, planted a grove of karaka at Papawhero on the north bank of the Patea River and might rightly lay claim to planting the first exotic tree in the province.”
Other legends attribute the arrival of karaka to other waka and other explorers.
Botanical evidence, however, shows that karaka are endemic to the New Zealand region and today are found growing in coastal and lowland forests throughout the North Island and less frequently in the South Island. Research into the tree’s distribution demonstrates that its natural range is the northern regions of the North Island. They have been distributed either culturally (by Maori predominantly as a food source) or naturally (largely by kereru who are the only bird capable of swallowing the berry. Some other birds have been known to pick them up and transport them so that they can peck at the fruit in safety but can’t swallow them). Plotting karaka trees on maps alongside the New Zealand Archaeological Association’s data base shows a close association of karaka and archaeological sites.
Karaka berries are extremely poisonous unless prepared properly. Nevertheless, they were a very useful portable food source for Maori in areas where climatic conditions were challenging for growing food (especially sub-tropical species) and are one of only a few indigenous plants that were harvested for food during early settlement of the country. Despite their usefulness they have a mixed reputation today and when located beyond their natural range are considered by some environmentalists to be a weed.