Podocarpus totara is endemic to New Zealand. It grows throughout the North Island and northeastern South Island in lowland. Tōtara is commonly found in lowland areas where the soil is fertile and well drained.
The tōtara is a medium to large tree which grows slowly to around 20 to 25 m, exceptionally to 35 m; it is noted for its longevity and the great girth of its trunk. The bark peels off in papery flakes, with a purplish to golden brown hue.
Tōtara is often found regenerating on farmland as it is not eaten by livestock.