Many whakataukī (sayings) use trees and plants as symbols and metaphors.
The tōtara (Podocarpus totara) is symbolic of a great chief. The following expression describes the death of a chief:
Kua hinga te tōtara i Te Waonui a Tāne.
A tōtara has fallen in the great forest of Tāne.
A great chief is also referred to as a tōtara haemata – a strong-growing tōtara.
Another saying compares people to the tōtara and the pukatea:
Ka haere te tōtara haemata, ka takoto te pukatea wai nui.
The tōtara floats, while the pukatea lies in deep water.
This proverb suggests that young people are like the soft-wooded tōtara – they move around easily and can attend meetings in different areas. Older people are more settled – they are like the pukatea, a tree with heavy wood that grows in swamps.
A difficult person is identified with the stinging ongaonga (tree nettle, Urtica ferox):
He tangata ongaonga.
A prickly person.
A bold and committed person is compared to the maire (Nestegis cunninghamii), a hardwood:
E, ko te matakahi maire.
Like a wedge of maire.
Cowardice is likened to the soft berry of the tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa):
He tawa para, he whati kau tāna.
The pulp of the tawa berry is easily crushed.
A courageous person is compared to the tawa’s hard kernel:
Ka mahi te tawa uho ki te riri.
Well done, tawa kernel fighting away.
Another proverb notes that when a person dies, they return to Te Pō (the darkness) forever, unlike the tī kōuka (cabbage tree), which grows back even if it is cut down.
Ehara i te tī e wana ake.
Man is not like the tī, which renews itself.
Another proverb refers to the tough climbing frond of mangemange (Lygodium articulatum):
Kia pēnei te mārōrō o tō kākahu me te mangemange.
Let your clothes be as strong as the mangemange, which never wears out.