Discover New Zealand's native giants

Discover New Zealand's native giants


Life & Style
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One of the best things about an overseas trip is discovering exciting new trees.

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The smooth, lower trunk of a New Zealand kauri tree growing in Wellington Botanic Garden, NZ.

The smooth, lower trunk of a New Zealand kauri tree growing in Wellington Botanic Garden, NZ.

One of the best things about an overseas trip is discovering exciting new trees.

A recent visit to the Wobbly Isles was a reminder of the fantastically different Kiwi plants: 80 per cent of New Zealand's flora is not just indigenous but endemic, meaning it's found nowhere else in the world.

Top of the list of native trees is the glorious kauri pine (Agathis australis).

A relation of our Queensland kauri (Agathis robusta), New Zealand kauri trees reach 50 metres and soar above the main forest canopy.

They grow straight up, shedding branches as they gain height, leaving no 'knots' in the trunk for up to 30 metres, which makes them exceptionally valuable as milled timber.

Kauri forests are among the world's oldest, their antecedents appearing between 190 and 135 million years ago. Sadly, most of the trees have been logged - the timber is so hard that the white settlers even used it to build roads.

Some huge kauri trees are renowned for surviving for 50,000 years after being buried in a swamp at the end of the last ice age.

Trees about 2000 years old were felled by an unknown act of nature and the lower portion of numerous trunks, up to 14 metres in diameter, were perfectly preserved in a sealed, chemically balanced environment.

Kauri forests are among the world's oldest, their antecedents appearing between 190 and 135 million years ago. - Fiona Ogilvie

A trademark of swamp kauri wood is its iridescent streaks found in some of the wider grains, known as whitebait after the pattern of the wake left by schools of New Zealand whitebait fish.

The logs are much prized by cabinet makers and wood artists, though they are difficult and expensive to extract.

Kauri gum, a fossilised resin found in swamps previously covered by kauri forest is another prized byproduct of the trees and used to make lacquers and varnishes.

Another beautiful Kiwi tree is the New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa), more commonly known by its Maori name of pohutukawa.

A coastal evergreen growing to around 25 metres, it has a broad, spreading crown covered in midsummer with crimson, callistemon-like flowers.

This tree is readily available in Australian garden centres and is reasonably hard, but needs frost protection when young.

My favourite discovery on our holiday was another endemic known locally as kanuka (Kunzea ericoides), a spreading tree to 18 metres with pink and white flowers in spring.

Walking through a patch of native woodland in the Bay of Islands, I was overwhelmed by a sweet, almost frangipani-like scent from a source I was infuriatingly unable to identify.

The only trees were native manuka (Leptospermum) and kanuka, but neither were in flower.

I learned later the aroma probably came from sooty mould, a black fungus that feeds on honeydew produced by scale insects. I love how nature always has the last word.

Autumn is a great time for garden visiting, both at home and away.

Dubbo and District Branch of CanAssist has seven gardens open on Sunday, April 28, from 9am to 4pm, entry is $25, morning tea and lunch available in all gardens. Details Elizabeth McKay, 0427 474 915, fitzmckay@bigpond.com

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