Walkway a treat for trees

19:03, Feb 14 2013

Last week we walked up along the Huatoki river emerging onto Harris St and then Mill Rd.

Just across the road by the narrow car funnel is the extension of the walkway heading inland towards Sycamore Grove where the city has built a new bridge allowing people from the Carrington St end to more easily access the reserve. It's terrific the way the New Plymouth District Council keeps improving our walkways. New Plymouth and all of Taranaki is blessed with a host of wonderful walkways. Let's set off on our walk, having chosen another glorious summer day. Growing out of the bank on both sides is a wormwood relative called Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Ambrosia is another name for food of the gods. As kids we ate a brand of tinned rice called ambrosia which was sweet and syrupy but hardly rated as food of the gods.

Where the track narrows is a cute pink abutilon and a purple leaf European beech. When you come out into the open again there's a steep bank down to the river with cascading nasturtium and a big drift of tall jerusalem artichoke at the bottom. The tubers on this sunflower relative are the size of a small potato and taste quite nice as a change, but I doubt anyone would choose to eat them day after day. They are rather insipid, and can't begin to compare with the delicate taste of a true artichoke - they are food of the gods, even though each bite is hard won by dragging the edible portion through your closed teeth.

Soon you have Frankley Rd on your right and a brand new highway under your feet. This new, or rather improved, walkway is wonderful - you must check it out. On the left, two big poplar trees with white to grey felted leaves. The leaves seem to shimmer and always be in motion. It's a surprise there are no suckers on these trees because they're notorious for suckering.

Where the gravel surface changes to tarmac is an American oak Quercus coccinea, a slightly unusual tree for our area. Scarlet oaks are treasured by Canadians for their autumn colour but in a mild climate like ours, they hardly do a thing. But travel over to Gisborne with their hotter summers and colder winters and you'll be enthralled by their changing colours, especially at Eastwoodhill Arboretum around Anzac Day.

Next are tulip trees on both sides. Another eastern American tree, Liriodendron tulipifera- this was the first Latin name I learnt at the tender age of 7 when my sister and I bought one for my dad's birthday. Lirio means lily and dendron is tree. Then as if to contradict that, the species name means it looks like a tulip as opposed to a lily. For me the apricot spring flowers look like tulips but we hardly ever see them even though they appear in their hundreds. It doesn't mean they're not there, but they don't show up well against all the leaves. Just to confuse us even more, these trees are closely related to magnolias, but their leaves are most unusual. You cannot mistake this tree for any other because it looks as if some sprite has cut the end out of every leaf with a pair of scissors.


Alan Jellyman tells me these trees were a special selection chosen by the Forest Service as good timber trees and were planted in the mid 1960s. In eastern America they are one of the top timber trees because they're so common. Even the bark gets used, as I've stayed in a hotel where the outer walls were tiled in squares of tulip tree bark. The reason it's so common is the seedlings come up like cress on newly cleared land, a bit like gorse does in New Zealand, and as they grow taller it's a race to see which trees win, while most fade out because of the competition. Eventually a new forest of them is created. This may not seem strange until you think how our own eco-system works. Our bare land is colonised by gorse or manuka, which soon die out when the taller plants like mamaku and rewarewa shade them out, before the rimu and totara dominate. So in the case of the tulip tree being the boss from start to finish it would be like us having 60-metre gorse trees. Thank goodness that didn't happen.

We do have lots of interesting big trees in this reserve and also around on the steep ridges in the Glenpark area. These trees were planted when the houses were built after the war. State housing put out contracts for planting and Alan Jellyman tells me George Smith of Duncan and Davies nursery was responsible for much of the planning and planting of native and exotic trees in this locale. Keep your eyes open as you drive through this area and look for the tree plantations on the steep ridges. Thank goodness New Plymouth isn't flat, otherwise we'd have back to back housing like some boring cities do.

The plane, chestnut and kauri trees along the walkway here would date back to that same era. Further on the trees are predominantly maples starting with a host of traditional Japanese maples Acer palmatum, the name meaning like a hand or palm.

Then just before the green fence on the left you'll see a huge box elder, which despite the name is really a weird maple from California, Acer negundo. They're weird because the leaves are multiples and totally unlike our preconceived ideas of maples, and the bonus is the tree is wind hardy, while most maples loath strong winds.

Next a community orchard beside the fence with guavas and citrus trees planted and mulched and all looking very neat and tidy. Spot a huge Spanish or sweet chestnut opposite this border, so I guess this could be part of the orchard as the nuts are scrumptious.

On your left the new bridge to Balance St, and then a big drift of a super orange abutilon or chinese lanterns. We sometimes describe this plant as a weed but I love it and so do the tui and bellbirds who feed on them all day long. If you see white petals on the ground that's Cornus capitata.

Just after the black pipe is another huge box elder. Then just beside the white bridge over our heads is a beautiful big maple on the far side of the stream, Acer morrisonense from Taiwan. By the way, the reason we have so many wonderful river walkways in New Plymouth is because all rivers over three metres wide had a designation that the adjoining land would be preserved as reserves for walkways. This allowed the city fathers to use the waterways to help prevent flooding in the built up areas of the city.

My thanks to Alan Jellyman who joined me on the walk and identified many of the trees.

Taranaki Daily News