Compiling a log of city's top ten trees

01:11, Aug 14 2012
Oak tree
TENACIOUS: The English oak planted in 1842 on Seymour Ave is a favourite.

I have been reading about how the dense forests of the Wood were once significant landscape features and Nelson was a patchwork of rich and diverse ecosystems.

These forests were short-lived after the arrival of the settlers - just like my own 1100 square metre section after the arrival of my husband and his chainsaw.

Over the past six years our heavily forested and overgrown park stream-side section has been transformed into an area of open grassland. My husband has happily brandished a chainsaw and managed to fill up at least 10 skips.

Each tree that he has removed has been for a good reason; not bearing fruit, rotten, too close to the house, ugly, or in the wrong place. I am now very alert when he says “I am going to tidy up” a tree as this can mean ground level if it doesn't meet his criteria for landscape or aesthetic values.

The dwindling number of trees at home may be why I have become acutely aware of those at the homes of others and in public spaces. I have come up with a “top 10” list of my favourites. To get a place on my list, a tree must be outstanding on at least one of: historic value, age, size, rarity or “other”.

1. First up is an English oak planted in 1842 on Seymour Ave. Shortly after planting, the tree was washed away in a flood. It was found on the Maitai River bank and replanted on higher ground. This tree qualifies for my list by virtue of tenacity and it is also thought to be one of the first English oaks planted in the region.


2. The Queens Gardens has several outstanding trees. My favourite is the Dawn redwood, one of the largest of its species in New Zealand; a 2009 survey concluded that this tree is ranked fifth, combining height, girth and spread.

3. At Church Hill, home of the cathedral, there are many trees that are both old and huge. There is a weeping redwood planted around 1892, which as well as being large, is noted for its pendulous branches. My son is not the only child who has swung from these.

4. Melrose House also has many large, old trees. Their redwood is the largest recorded of its species in New Zealand. But my favourite is a Moreton Bay fig on the Brougham St side. It has beautiful buttress roots, which reach out on to the footpath like giant's toes. So, while a favourite of mine, the City Council may not be impressed by the damage caused by this tree.

5. At the entrance gates of Nelson College for Girls there is a magnificent Tasmanian blue gum, planted 165 years ago. A great backdrop for taking photos of your daughter in her new school uniform.

6. In Miyazu Garden both New Zealand and Japanese plant species feature to symbolise the harmonising of two cultures; harakeke sits alongside cherry blossom. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the end of winter (and coming of spring) is held in mid-September and this is the best time to visit.

7. The plane trees on Collingwood St fascinate me. Last week they were having their annual beauty treatment and being “pollarded”. This pruning method involves removing all of their stems back to their point of origin, the pollard head. Napoleon Bonaparte was a great fan of pollarded plane trees and some historians say that wherever he marched he asked his men to plant long lines of these on either side of the road.

8. There is a big willow on Willow Walk that makes me think of a benign version of the “whomping willow” in J K Rowling's Harry Potter books. The whomping willow is a valuable and violent species of magical plant that attacks anything that comes within range of its branches. Our local willow is not at all violent and its arms sweep gently over you as you walk towards the next tree on my list.

9. Just outside Nelson Central school is a large hoop pine tree, which is perfect for hiding behind and then jumping out with a loud “boo”. If the whomping willow doesn't get you the hoop pine will.

10. The final entrant on my list is a bunya bunya conifer on Milton St. This 142-year-old tree makes my list because of the size of its cones, which are pumpkin-sized and in optimal conditions can weigh up 16 kilograms.

Now that we have a clean slate at home, we are on a planting mission. We are filling up our section with trees that meet my husband's criteria for landscape or aesthetic value.

These are mostly natives - kawakawa, griselinia, lancewood, kowhai, ribbonwood, kahikatea and cabbage trees. And, one large flowering magnolia that I am going to sneak in. Who knows, maybe 150 years from now, one of these may make it on to someone's list of favourite trees.