San Francisco's pohutukawa 'curse'

Last updated 05:00 30/08/2010
"CURSED RELIC": Nearly 5000 pohutukawa trees were planted in San Francisco in the 1980s.

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San Francisco residents are blaming New Zealand's beloved pohutukawa for destroying sewer lines and pavements.

The New York Times publication The Bay Citizen blames the trees for what it describes as the destruction of infrastructure in the city, where nearly 5000 trees were planted in the 1980s.

The paper described the trees as the "cursed relic" of the 1980s, and an ill-fated idea that was now wreaking havoc on the city.

It detailed the ordeal of Elizabeth Kantor, a doctor who was initially excited about having a "New Zealand Christmas tree" planted in front of her house in 1984.

Not only has the mature tree left her with a $2500 bill to repair paving stones, she is also paying appeal costs to fight the Department of Public Works over who should pay for the damage, and further costs to have the trees replaced with a more benign species.

New Zealand Arboricultural Association vice-president Bruce MacDonald said pohutukawa were coastal dwellers, and could cause problems in an urban environment.

"Pohutukawas do have a bit of a bad rep because they do have incredibly invasive root systems."

He described the trees as "very lazy", with their roots preferring to stretch along the easiest route they could find.

They tended not to cause damage to the foundations of structures, but could get into sewerage systems, as the trees had done in San Francisco.

Pohutukawa could work well in urban environments if their positioning was well planned, and they were well pruned, but Mr MacDonald said their seeds still had the propensity to spread.

"Some people do consider them a bit of a weed species because of their prolific seeds, which get stuck in rocky crevices."

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- The Dominion Post

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