What tree in all the world could dare challenge the North American giant sequoia as the king of trees? In sheer size, sequoias can amass a girth at their base exceeding 100' and rise to the height of a 25-story building with the first branch more than 100' above the earth. New Zealanders bow to these awesome statistics, but believe their favorite son, the kauri (Agathis australis), a pine, deserves royal recognition, too.
The kauri can never equal the sequoia in height or girth, but in the combined attributes of size, timber content, and wood quality, they say the tree rates monarch status. This is because, unlike sequoias, kauri do not taper as they increase in height. Instead, their trunks frequently increase in girth where the branches begin, resulting in 28' diameters 100' above the ground!
The kauri thus produces vast quantities of millable heartwood (with no taper, little wood is lost), and the species was marked for lumber production as far back as the early 1800s. Its wood was used for boatbuilding as well as frame-house construction and furniture. And for some time, the sap of the kauri was collected in gum form as the hardening ingredient in paints and varnishes.
Unfortunately, the kauri was truly exploited. Trees died from slashes made in their bark by gum collectors. Kauri forests were leveled for more agricultural land. And vast fires decimated still more standing timber. That's why today most of the country's large kauri trees grow on protected government preserves. Yet, kauri fans still search for the largest tree while old bushmen point to the stumps of past giants.
Illustration: Jim Stevenson