Our ancient trees: Aute

In fact aute (paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera), brought with the early Polynesian settlers, is now extinct in New Zealand – and when the tree was lost to Aotearoa so, apparently, was the local art of making tapa cloth.

Until my visit yesterday to Tauranga Art Gallery I had been unaware tapa was ever made here but thanks to a small show of modern tapa made by Nikau Hindin – who went to Hawaii to learn the craft she has now practised for several years – I’ve started 2020 the right way and learned something new!

The leaves of Broussonetia papyrifera. Image: Didier Descouens via Wikipedia.

Gallery information says the tree and cloth were both known as ‘aute’. The fibre was used for kite-making, adornment and the wrapping of valuables, and a short film with the exhibition demonstrates the making of aute from the felling of the small tree to the final, painted cloth. Apparently, it wasn’t used for clothing here (presumably after the first winter) because it simply wasn’t warm enough!

Nikau Hindin (Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi) paints her aute with earth pigments and plant dyes, creating charts of celestial navigation. Here is a 2019 photo essay about her work.

“When I first beat Hawaiian [aute], my thin strip of inner bark expanded far beyond my expectations, over four times the original width!,” Nikau wrote for E-Tangata last year. “Once dried it became a fine, soft, pale cloth that could be dyed and printed … I enjoyed the intimacy of working with carved wooden tools and interacting with the fibre …” Read the full interview here.

‘Kuaka’, an aute by Nikau Hindin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Native to Taiwan and Southeast Asia, aute, a member of the fig family, has been used for making paper, rope and feeding to stock. Its native range is subtropical to temperate. The Auckland Museum website says it is an economically important plant which was widely distributed by the Austronesian expansion across the Pacific in Polynesian prehistory – as far as Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Hawai’i and New Zealand. Throughout Polynesia the inner bark was used to make a cloth, known generally as tapa.

And yes, this is the same plant that’s been used for thousands of years to make paper in China and Japan.

Wikipedia notes, however, that paper mulberry hasn’t been a welcome addition to every country it’s been taken – and is considered to be one of Pakistan’s worst weeds (as well as sending thousands of people to hospital every year in Islamabad due to pollen allergies), one of the worst invaders of Argentina’s Pampas grasslands and a dominant invasive species in the forests of Uganda.

However, the plant doesn’t set seed in tropical Polynesia and so the Polynesian migrations carried with them cuttings and plants. In their 2004 book, Pacific Tapa, Roger Neich and Mick Pendergrast state that in 1769 Captain James Cook and botanist Joseph Banks were shown aute plantations in the Bay of Islands but that the tree became extinct in New Zealand in the 1840s, thanks to neglect and browsing cattle.

The authors note that there may be some doubt as to whether there was an authentic New Zealand version of tapa as so few pieces – and these very small – have been found. The only evidence for the manufacture of aute in New Zealand, they say, are the 14 aute beaters found in swamps and coastal mud from north Auckland to Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, all made from native timbers.

Tree of the moment: Linden

In fact, if we crinkle our eyes right, the linden tree (Tilia) is a tree of Christmas moments in both hemispheres – flowering in early summer and with the wood being a traditional medium for carving the most beautiful Father Christmas figures in Russia. And it gives me the perfect opportunity to wish all my readers, near and far, a peaceful and safe Christmas and a joyous start to 2020!

Linden wood is traditionally used by Russian wood-workers to make St Nicholas figures. They are very beautiful, surprisingly light and remarkably expensive! Furniture makers like linden wood for its straight grain. Image: Andrew & Vicka Gabriht
Ho, ho, ho. Another Russian beauty. (My wooden Santa from Russia is the size of a tree ornament.)

Sometimes also called lime trees (basswood in North America), these are no relation to the fruiting citrus trees, but rather grow into large specimens with copious quantities of small, fragrant flowers in early summer. There are native varieties to be found in the temperate parts of Europe, Asia and North America and ancient leaf fossils – 70 million years old – have been found in Siberia.

We noticed them last year in Stockholm and later on a day trip to Berlin were reminded that the famous central city street is called Unter den Linden, literally Under the Linden (trees). The first trees were planted here in 1647 and from 1701 it started to take shape as the city’s grandest street – which it remained until World War 2 – with a wide, pedestrian avenue dividing the street where people may stroll ‘unter den linden’.

A 1691 watercolour of Lindenallee, later Unter den Linden. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1920s, this was the home of Berlin’s famous cabaret halls and where people like Marlene Dietrich got their start. However, the linden trees were disappearing in the 1930s, thanks to an underground-train tunnel being built, while the rest were destroyed by bombing or taken for firewood during the war. And then came the wall, which effectively cut the street into two dead ends for almost 30 years.

Today, Unter den Linden is again a tree-lined boulevard and central to Berlin, thanks to trees planted in the 1950s and with much building restoration work since the end of the war and then again after reunification, with some still ongoing.

Linden flowers seen in Stockholm, possibly Tilia cordata as this is the species native to Europe. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The great Swedish botanist Linneaus took his name from the linden tree, known as ‘linn’ in Swedish. Read about his life in this earlier post. And the tree is a national emblem for Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, while the name of the German city Liepzig has its root in an old name for the tree.

Slavs used to plant linden trees close to important places such as churches and homes and believed lightning would not hit the holy tree, while Germanic peoples held councils and court sessions under linden trees, believing the tree would help establish the truth. If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link to a detailed document about the symbolism of the linden tree (opens as a pdf).

Besides being highly perfumed, the tree’s flowers can also be used to make tea, while the leaves are apparently edible.

Under the mistletoe

Mistletoe features in many Christmas songs, stories and on cards – but even though we celebrate Christmas in the ‘wrong’ season we have our own native mistletoes flowering over summer.

According to the Department of Conservation website, New Zealand has nine mistletoe species: The three species found mainly in beech forest are red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala), scarlet mistletoe (P. colensoi) and yellow mistletoe (Alepis flavida); the five species found in lowland forest and scrub are small-flowered mistletoe (Ileostylus micranthus), white mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica) and three dwarf or leafless mistletoes (Korthalsella salicornioides, K.lindsayi and K. clavata). One species (Trilepedia adamsii or Adams’s mistletoe) is presumed extinct; it was last seen in 1954.

Scarlet mistletoe in flower in the southwest of the South Island. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Generally, populations are declining throughout the country, mainly due to browsing pests, such as possums and rats, a decline in the populations of native birds that pollinate the plants and spread the seeds, and loss of habitat.

The scarlet mistletoe and rifleman bird were featured on the $2 note which was in circulation from July 10, 1967 to 1991, when the note was replaced by a coin.

But the plants do themselves few favours. Researcher Jenny Ladley intended to hand-pollinate flowers during her work in 1992 but found many that had ripened but few that had opened. Suspecting she was missing something, she hauled herself up into a tree to watch – along came a tui which flicked the flower open with its beak, releasing pollen on to its head and gaining access to nectar at the base of the flower.

So specialised pollination, and if bird numbers decline in an area, the potential for a low pollination season. What else? Some mistletoes have relationships with only a limited number of trees and so the seed has to find the right host; all the native mistletoes grow extremely slowly (15mm in 2 years!) making them extremely vulnerable to browsing animals; and the flowering rate varies from year to year. Read more in this NZ Geographic article.

One way of knowing if you’re in a mistletoe area in the New Zealand bush in summer is to look at the track for the telltale fallen red flowers. The plants are often growing high above you.

Our mistletoe, like its European counterparts, is semiparasitic, meaning that although it takes nutrients from its host tree, it also photosynthesises its own food and doesn’t kill the host.

A Victorian Christmas card showing a kiss between a mistletoe girl and a holly boy.

Although mistletoe is now associated with Christmas, myths around the plant date back to at least the Viking era.

When the god Odin’s son Baldur was prophesied to die, his mother Frigg, the goddess of love, went to all the animals and plants and asked them to promise not to harm him. But she neglected to consult with the unassuming mistletoe, so the scheming god Loki made an arrow from the plant, which was used to kill Baldur. According to happier versions, the gods were able to resurrect Baldur. Frigg then declared mistletoe a symbol of love and peace and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it.

NZ Rose Trial Results 2019

By Hayden Foulds

A rose named for the breeder’s mother topped the list of awards presented at the New Zealand Rose Society International Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North earlier this month.

Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield, from Rob Somerfield Roses, topped the trials with his ‘Grandma’s Rose’ which won the Gold Star of the South Pacific, the top award at the trial grounds. “The name is a tribute to my mother from her grandchildren, they felt it was her colour,” Rob said.

Grandma’s Rose, bred by Rob Somerfield, is the winner of the 2019 Gold Star of the South Pacific. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Rob, who also did well at the Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in November, also received a Certificate of Merit for the cream variety ‘Old Friends’. Both his roses will be introduced to the market in the next couple of years.

Berry Nice, bred by Bob Matthews of Whanganui, received a Certificate of Merit. Photo: Matthews Nurseries

Certificates of Merit were also awarded to the magenta pink ‘Berry Nice’ bred by Bob Matthews of Matthews Nurseries Ltd in Whanganui and to the yellow ‘Lemon Ruffles’, bred by Canadian breeder Brad Jalbert and entered by Amore Roses of Hamilton. This is the first time a Canada-bred rose has won an award at the trials. Both these varieties are already on the market in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Rose Society trials are now into their 49th year and test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are assessed over 2 years by a panel of 20 judges who mark for such as freedom of flowering, health, plant quality, flower quality and fragrance.

At the conclusion of each trial, those roses which have gained an average of 70% are recognised with awards and reflect the consistently high performance that they have achieved during the trial period.

In 2020, the trials celebrate their 50th anniversary and a number of activities and events are planned to mark this occasion, including the National Rose Show being held in Palmerston North, the naming of a new rose for the city and the publication of a book on the rose trials.

Strawberry fair

If it’s December in New Zealand, it’s strawberry season! Backyards, balconies, decks … all sorts of corners and growing containers are put into service. The Vege Grower has covered his raised bed with soft netting to keep the birds out (although has relented with the fig tree and allowed some branches to grow through the netting ‘so we share with the birds’) and we’ve already had a few feeds off the plants.

If you don’t grow them yourself there are still berry farms, sadly reducing in number, where you can go to pick your own, always fun with children!

When I was in Japan, early in spring there, this year, my eye was caught by some of the ‘different’ strawberries on sale – white and pink, as well as the more usual red.

These white strawberries (front) were for sale in the Takashiyama department store in Tokyo. The price on the sticker equates to $NZ38 – for seven strawberries! Photo: Sandra Simpson

According to this 2017 article, the most expensive white strawberry is White Jewel (Shiroi Houseki), bred by Yasuhito Teshima and put on the market in 2013. But even with its specialised breeding that eliminates the protein that makes ripe strawberries red, the fruit also needs to be grown correctly for it to remain completely white with reduced exposure to light being key. But Yasuhito Teshima says that even after years of trial and error, it’s pretty much still a lottery with only 10% of his strawberries turning out white, and only a few of those being perfectly pale.

Here’s a 2017 video featuring Mr Teshima talking about his strawberries (subtitled).

Gift giving is the social oil of Japan and, with space in homes generally at a premium, the best sort of gift to receive is a consumable – which is where rare and unusual fruit comes into its own.

Nara Strawberry Lab is a co-operative of young growers. This pack offers red, pink and white fruit. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Setting off for our hanami (picnic under the flowering cherry trees) meant a stop at Shinjuku’s Takashiyama department store and the amazing – and extensive – basement food hall. I was intrigued by the sight of fruit and cream sandwiches, so much so that we bought a strawberry one to try. It wasn’t terrible!

Sweet sandwiches – strawberries and cream or mandarins and cream. The strawberry sandwich is about $NZ6 for two halves. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sowing the seed

With all the garden festivals, trails and events on just now, it was interesting to hear about some of the changes on the way for next year’s Bay of Plenty Garden & Art Festival (November 19-22) at a recent ‘soft launch’.

The popular festival hub, aka Bloom in the Bay – previously at the Historic Village and before that The Lakes – is on the move once again and next year will be at Tauranga Racecourse making use of the buildings (eg, for the Long Lunch and a festival gallery where every artist in the programme is represented by one work) and the grounds for concept gardens.

A quiet corner in a central Tauranga garden that was open in 2018. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Two new awards have been mooted, one for landscape design and one for an emerging artist.Festival director Marc Anderson would like to see the winning landscape design built, but that’s still at the wish-list stage. He also mentioned that the art award was for any early-career artist, regardless of age, and that the winner would be exhibited on the garden trails.

The new Te Puke postal centre and visitor information centre (Te Manawa) will be the site for a garden competition with the a difference – gardens will be constructed on the backs of small trucks/utes or in car boots. Marc said he’d love to see entrants in a procession to the Racecourse but didn’t know how hard that would be on the gardens!

For anyone whose garden hasn’t quite made the grade for 2020, but where the assessors can see potential, there is a new mentor scheme, hopefully bringing new gardens into each festival. Gardeners will work with landscape designer Celia Laity, who has recently moved to the Bay of Plenty.

And a suggested cycling trail is to be included for Te Puna-area gardens.

Part of the fun of a garden festival is not knowing what you might find – these are the flowers of an ooray tree (Davidsonia puriens), native to tropical Queensland. The plum-like fruit have been a favourite with the indigenous people for thousands of years. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It was great to see so many familiar gardening faces at the event – people who have been opening their plots since the first festival in 2001, some who’ve had a festival off and are returning and some who are opening their garden for the first time. They were rightly applauded for their generosity, especially, as one gardener said, it’s 2 years of hard work to have it right for those few days.

Figures quoted suggested a value to the community of $1.453 million, with 29,000 visitors attending the 2018 festival (a few over 10,000 tickets sold) – 36.5% from Tauranga and the Western Bay; 33% from the rest of the Bay of Plenty; 14% from Waikato; 14.5% from the rest of New Zealand and 2% from overseas, a figure Marc would like to see increase.

National Rose Show 2019

The Waikato Rose Society last weekend hosted the New Zealand Rose Show, held in Hamilton Gardens where the Pacific Rosebowl Festival also took place.The blooms were truly magnificent.

Champion exhibition bloom was Sylvia, grown by Janice Walker of Northland and bred in the Kordes nursery (Germany). Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion large stem, mini-type rose was Irresistible, grown by Irene Taylor of Waikato and bred by Dee Bennett of the US. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion small stem, mini-type rose was Luis Desamero, named for a Californian rosarian. This rose was also grown by Irene Taylor. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion decorative bloom was Joan Monica, grown by Janet Pike of Waikato. This rose was created by amateur breeder Brian Attfield of Cambridge, so an all-round local win. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion of champions mini-type rose and Champion fully open bloom, mini-type was the charming Dinky Pinky, grown by Irene Taylor of Waikato and bred by Patrick Dickson of the UK. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion of Champions was Reflections, grown by Sheree Gare of Waikato. This rose was bred by Nola Simpson of Manawatu. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Champion fully open bloom was Hamilton Gardens (bred by Sam McGredy), grown by Jan Lusty of Waikato, while Champion exhibition bloom, mini-type was Chelsea Belle, grown by Janet Pike of Waikato, and bred by Peter and Kay Taylor of the United States.

Champion large stem of roses was Natalie Ann, grown by Violet Forshaw of Northland. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion display vase, mini-type was the striking Glowing Amber, grown by Sheree Gare of Waikato, and bred by George Mander of Canada. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion decorative bloom, mini-type was Forshaw, grown by (drum-roll) Violet Forshaw of Northland. This patio rose was bred by Rob Somerfield of Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Champion display vase was this drop-dead collection of Southern Beauty blooms, grown by Janet Walker of Northland. This is another New Zealand rose, bred by John Ford of Manawatu (Nola Simpson’s nephew). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Apologies to the growers and the show if I’ve missed anything out. The Champions table was full of certificates, sashes and flowers but hopefully, I’ve got it right. Amazing to note that all the winning growers are women and so many of the roses have been bred in New Zealand!