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Plant in habitat, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand [Trevor Hinchliffe].


Foliage on plant in habitat, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand [Trevor Hinchliffe].


Foliage and fruit on plant in habitat, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand [Trevor Hinchliffe].


A large, spreading stand of snow totara on descent to Kitatahi Hut, on the Tongariro Crossing [C.J. Earle, 2003.02].


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Conservation status 2010: protocol 2.3, needs updating

Podocarpus nivalis

Hooker 1843

Common names

Snow totara.

Taxonomic notes

Syn.: P. montanus Colenso 1895 non Britton 1889; P. nivalis var. erectus Cockayne 1916 (Farjon 1998). Type locality: Mount Tongariro. Type: K, Bidwill (Allan 1961).


A prostrate or semi-prostrate shrub with wide-spreading branches, sometimes almost a miniature tree. Leaves close-set, spirally arranged, erect or subpatent, rigid, coriaceous, margins thickened, linear-oblong, obtuse, midvein prominent, 0.5-1.5 cm. × 2-4 mm. Pollen cones axillary, 0.5-1.5 cm. long (on peduncle 3-5 mm. long) solitary or up to 4 per peduncle. Ovules axillary, peduncle 3 mm. long, with a receptacle of two acute, red, swollen bracts. Seeds solitary, ovoid, 3.5-5.5 mm. long, obtusely pointed, nutlike (Allan 1961, Salmon 1996). In its native habitat, there really are no remotely similar species; it is instantly recognizable.

Distribution and Ecology

New Zealand: N and S Islands, in upper forest margins and subalpine scrub from lat. 36° 50' southwards, also in lowland forest in Westland on the South Island (Allan 1961). Based on data from 416 collection localities, it grows at elevations of 1100 ±290 m. Within its range, mean annual temperature is 6.9°C, with an average minimum in the coldest month of -2.6°C (the lowest recorded for a species of Podocarpaceae), and a mean annual precipitation of 2620 mm (Biffin et al. 2011, Table S5). Hardy to Zone 7 (cold hardiness limit between -17.7°C and -12.2°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree





It is very common in the high country of Tongariro National Park, and can be seen in that area along most walks that pass through alpine shrub communities, where it is often a dominant species. These alpine shrublands are very well displayed around Ketetahi Hut on the Tongariro Crossing, at high elevations on Hauhungatahi, and on walks around Whakapapa on Ruapehu, such as the Taranaki Falls and Silica Rapids tracks.


Subject to a fungal leaf spot disease caused by Corynelia tropica (Hood 1985).


See also

The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, accessed 2010.11.22.

Gymnosperms of New Zealand.

Last Modified 2017-11-07