30 June 2015

A celebration of trees: June: A few Auckland notables

As my regular readers know, one of my photography projects this year is a celebration of trees. To honour both the beauty and benefits of trees I have been posting a photo each day of a tree or trees (you can see these photographs in my Picasa album here). And, each month, I’ve been blogging about my favourite or special trees. For my June celebration, I’m sharing photos and a little detail of a few of the more notable exotic trees in Auckland.

Mirbecks or Algerian Oak (Quercus canariensis fagaceae), Cornwall Park
This magnificent tree was planted in the early 1920s and is recognised as being the finest of all the old oaks growing in Auckland’s Cornwall Park. Natives of Spain, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, Algerian Oaks can grow as tall as 30 to 40 metres and are semi-evergreen trees with rather rough, thick bark. You can perhaps tell from the cherry trees on the right in my photo how huge the oak is in comparison. Apparently, this oak is able to grow two forms of glossy dark green leaves at the same time – one sort is wedge-shaped, the other is oval-shaped and has lobes.

Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla moraceae), Cornwall Park
Though native to the mountain and coastal forests of eastern Australia, the Moreton Bay fig has made itself very much at home in Auckland and the city boasts many enormous old specimens like this one, which was planted in the early 1900s. Both the Moreton Bay fig and the Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa) were planted extensively by Auckland’s early settlers.

These figs can grow to a height of 30 metres, and spread equally wide when space allows. They frequently have buttressed roots, which sometimes grow completely above the ground and, when young, the Moreton Bay fig grows as an epiphyte and a strangler. It has very odd flowers – they’re contained inside the fruit and pollination is performed by a gall wasp that loses its wings after it enters the fruit. Though initially orange coloured, the fruit turns purple as it ripens.

Dragon tree (Dracaena draco), St Stephen’s Ave, Parnell
I love the shape of this Dragon tree and I’ve never seen one as tall as this one, which is believed to have been planted in 1898. Native to the Canary Islands, where they are cultivated for their resin, dragon trees are long lived and slow growing.

I found a fascinating snippet about dragon trees in an old newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, 5 September 1906, page 3:

The oldest tree in the world is said to be the famous Dragon-tree (Dracaena draco) of Teneriffe, which is estimated to be from 4000 to 6000 years of age. This wonder of the plant world was 70ft or more in height until the year 1819, when, during a terrific storm, one of the large branches was broken off. A similar storm in 1867 stripped the trunk of its remaining branches, and left it standing alone. A plant from one of the branches of this famous tree is growing in Kew Gardens.

Another newspaper report (in the Star, 10 November 1902, page 3) says the ‘tree was totally destroyed in a hurricane which occurred in 1876.’ It would certainly have been an amazing sight to see.

Cook’s Pine (Auraucaria columnaris), Western Park, Ponsonby
Western Park was founded in 1875 and contains some wonderful and highly unusual trees, of which this Cook’s pine is definitely the tallest. According to Elizabeth Francke’s Notable Trees of Auckland (The Tree Council, Auckland, published in 2003), the tree was then 27 metres tall but I imagine it’s grown a few metres since. It may not have been planted as early as 1875 but it is certainly one of Auckland’s oldest imported trees and is quite rare in this country. The Cook’s pine is a native of French New Caledonia and nearby islands and, like the better-known Norfolk Island pine, belongs to a southern hemisphere family of salt-tolerant conifers.

Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), Cheltenham Beach
Another tree that is tolerant of salt-laden winds is the Monterey Cypress, a native of the central coast of California. The many large specimens growing around Auckland city date from the earliest days of European settlement when this species was widely planted for farm shelter. Balmain Reserve, which borders Cheltenham Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, is a tiny park, just 0.4ha in extent – that, and the size of the person and the park bench in my photo, help to give an idea of how large this wonderful old cypress is.

Ombu (Phytolacca dioica), Albert Park, Auckland city
This incredible tree is one of Auckland’s most unusual exotic trees and is quite a rare tree in New Zealand, though there are other notable examples in Auckland’s Three Kings Park and Myers Park. In her Notable Trees of Auckland, Elizabeth Francke has this to say about the ombu:

[It] is native to Central and South America, where its hardihood and strange appearance have made it the subject of myth and folktale. The huge surface root-plate protects a shallow root system and makes the ombu fairly resistant to drought and storm. However, this tree did succumb to storm damage in 1971 – it is now hollow and shows secondary growth. Ombu wood is spongy, brittle and light; in dry weather the branches sometime snap and fall without warning. Nevertheless, the semi-deciduous ombu is often planted as a shade tree and one of its names is bella sombra, meaning pleasant shade. It bears 10cm flowers like bottle-brush in late summer.

As you can imagine, this particular ombu is a favourite with the younger visitors to Albert Park, as an especially good place to play hide and seek.

If you’re a tree lover like me, you might enjoy my previous month’s celebrations of trees which can be viewed by clicking on the following links: January (one particular favourite), February (about lime avenues), March (on the subject of forests), April (about the greening of the trees in the British springtime), and May (on the New Zealand pohutukawa).  

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