Tauranga Orchid Auction


Tauranga Orchid Society is pleased to announce its annual auction.

When: 7pm on Tuesday, February 19.

Where: St Enoch’s Church Hall, 16th Ave, Tauranga (in the block between Fraser St and Cameron Rd).

What: A lively and fun auction of orchids of all sorts, other plants, orchid books, preserves, fruit, etc. A chance to pick up plants at bargain prices.

Everyone welcome – whether a member or not. Cash only. Please bring boxes and bags to take home your new treasures. Queries to 07 577 6676.

Our native trees: Lancewood

Of all our native trees the lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius or P. ferox, horoeka) has to be the most unusual. Many New Zealand trees exhibit differences in their juvenile and mature foliage but are any of them as extreme as the lancewood?

Young lancewoods in suburban Taupo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Beloved of urban landscape designers, juvenile lancewoods (generally P. crassifolius) are tall, slim and striking for about 15 years, before dropping all their toothed foliage and developing a mop-top of softer green leaves. In fact, the two stages are so distinct that early botanists classified the juvenile and mature lancewoods as two separate species. (And the seedling stage is different again!)

A mature stage Pseudopanax ferox at Otari Wilton’s Bush in Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Department of Conservation website says there’s no general agreement about why the growth stages are so different (heteromorphy), but there are theories:

  • Evolved as a response to moa browsing – once trees grew above moa height, they no longer needed defences
  • A response to the growing trees moving from an understorey climate to a sub-canopy climate
  • A reallocation of resources as the tree grows – young plants need to gain height to prevent being shaded, while adults devote more energy to making leaves and branches.

The trees carry insignificant greenish flowers from mid-summer into autumn, followed by berry-like fruit. In Māori lore, the flowering of lancewood was an indication birds would be plentiful the following year, because the fruit takes a year to ripen.

The sharp hooks on the leaves of a juvenile Pseudopanax ferox. Photo: Sandra Simpson

P. ferox (fierce lancewood) is the less common species and has juvenile foliage that is wider and more heavily ‘toothed’ with a sharp hook at the end of each tooth. It can grow to about 4m in cultivation. P. crassifolius, which grows to about 6m in cultivation, doesn’t always have toothed foliage.

According to DOC, Māori used juvenile tree stems to spear kererū (wood pigeons) and South Island Māori pounded the leaves to extract long ‘hairs’ for use as a kind of brush in making rock paintings.

European settlers used the midribs of young leaves, which are strong and supple, as bootlaces and for mending bridles and harnesses. The straight, flexible trunks were sometimes used as whips. Lancewood was occasionally used as timber, mostly in Otago, but the wood is not as durable as some other species.

NZ Flower & Garden Show postponed

In a surprise annoucement NZ Flower & Garden Show director Kate Hillier said yesterday that there will be no show in November 2019, instead the event will take a year’s hiatus and be back in 2020.

She noted the concept of the show included alternating between different cities and venues – it has been staged twice in west Auckland – and while the show had seen significant support from Auckland residents, the NZFGS team wished to explore other locations.

“The New Zealand Flower and Garden Show takes at least 12 months to plan, and rather than rushing to secure a location we have decided to take a year out, to be 100% certain of future plans,” Kate said.

Maybe it means that Hamilton Gardens, which would be a perfect venue and still close enough to Auckland to draw visitors from there, is in the mix. However, the rest of the press release was somewhat opaque.

“The flower show team and I would like to sincerely thank those that have offered their support, our wonderful sponsors and exhibitors that created such spectacular displays and of course our show visitors. Please be assured that Auckland will always be a likely venue for future shows.”

So, is it Auckland, or isn’t it? Those who have followed the NZFGS will remember that its debut was also postponed by a year when in 2016 the first venue, Bastion Point, proved unworkable. The grounds and buildings of the The Trusts Arena in West Auckland have been good, though I’m not sure how good parking is on public days as I’ve only been to media days and it’s been pretty tight then.

Cranesbill Geraniums

I was lucky enough recently to have a reason to visit renowned plantsman and gardener Gordon Collier in his Taupo home, Anacapri. It’s an inspiration for those of us with suburban-size plots and a desire for a larger garden – throw away the lawn and fill every inch with plants, winding paths and a pond or two!

As you might have seen in the latest NZ Gardener magazine (February), Gordon has written a book about his Taupo garden, made on a flat, pumice site after he and his wife Annette retired from their Taihape-area farm – and the well-known Titoki Point garden – in 2001. Anacapri, named after a village on the Amalfi coast in Italy, has recently been judged a 5-star garden by the NZ Gardens Trust.

Geranium Annette in Gordon Collier’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gordon freely admits he always wanted to garden and not sheep farm but the farm gave him the space, if not necessarily the time or income, to start realising his dreams. Titoki Point became a destination for garden buffs and just before he left was attracting 5000 visitors a year. (The garden has since closed to the public.)

Several years ago, Gordon says, he noticed a Geranium seedling in the Anacapri garden that he thought was worth keeping. “A visiting nurseryman took it back to Auckland and eventually patented it.” It has been named ‘Annette’ in honour of Gordon’s wife who died in 2014.

Geranium Philippa (smaller, mauve flowers) growing in amongst Geranium Annette. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Gordon caught the Geranium (as opposed to Pelargonium) bug when he came across a catalogue put out by Philippa Foes-Lamb of the Heirloom Perennial Plant Nursery in Nelson – and another interesting plant in his garden apparently arrived by mistake and is not available at present.

Geranium Philippa “starts off as a pale grey hassock of pleasantly scented leaves; come summer, it literally erupts into a cloud of foliage with myriads of pale lilac flowers”, he says. “In season this plant will measure a metre across and as much high. It’s a stunning sight with, I believe, a great future as a garden plant.” Apparently it’s a chance hybrid between two uncommon species from South Africa which are growing in Philippa’s garden.

Geranium traversii growing in Otari Wilton’s Bush, Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Did you know we have a couple of native cranesbills? Geranium traversii is endemic to the Chatham Islands. Flowers are most often pink, but occasionally white or purple forms are seen. According to Shirley Stuart, NZ native curator at Dunedin Botanic Gardens, it’s one of the few Chathams plants which are relatively easy to grow throughout the country, although doesn’t like high humidity.

Geranium solanderi was among the plants collected by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander (a Swede) on their first day ashore in New Zealand in 1769 (East Cape). These days it’s a rare plant and is often found on cliffs, out of reach of introduced herbivores.

Geranium retrorsum looks very similar to G. solanderi and both plants can apparently be found in a remnant of a lava field in one of Auckland’s most intensely populated industrial areas!

High on hemp

Being driven through a village in the northern Netherlands I was idly staring out the window when I suddenly realised what I was seeing … so the next time we went that way, my host kindly stopped the car, chuckling at how the photos would seemingly reinforce the image of the Dutch being drug liberals.

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A hemp crop growing by the roadside in northern Netherlands. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, what we were looking at wasn’t marijuana but hemp. What’s the difference? Hemp is farmed for its fibre, while marijuana is, well, still an illegal drug in a lot of places, despite the inroads of the medical variety.

Both plants have the same botanical name – Cannabis sativa – but levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which causes most of marijuana’s psychological effects are very low in hemp. “Hemp also has high cannabidiol (CBD) content that acts as THC’s antagonist, essentially making the minimal amount of THC useless,” according to the Ministry of Hemp website.

That website helpfully notes that the plants also look different, hemp being taller and thinner, are grown differently (hemp plants, as the photo shows, can be grown very close together), and have different climate needs.

And if any bright spark should plant some marijuana in amongst the hemp, thinking it won’t be spotted, it’s bad news – hemp pollen will destroy marijuana’s THC levels.

The Netherlands has long had a reputation for liberal drug laws – cannabis cafes and so on – but this has been changing since about 2005 and Dutch police hunt out cannabis crops, much as they do in New Zealand.

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Cannabis sativa – hemp. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Dutch also have a long history of growing hemp, thought to be one of the world’s oldest crops. European navies – such as the Dutch, British and French – long used the fibre to make rope, paper, sails and clothing, while oil made from the seeds was used as a food and to fuel lamps.

In the 16th century, Henry VIII encouraged farmers to plant the crop to provide material for the Royal Navy – rigging, pennants, sails, and oakum were all made from hemp fibre and oil, while hemp paper was used for maps, logs and Bibles.

Unfortunately for hemp, politicians of the 1960s didn’t differentiate between it and marijuana and blanket bans came into place. In 1994 several farmers were contracted to grow 140ha of hemp in the Netherlands, making it the largest cultivation in the country for 60 years.

Since 2001 hemp has been grown under licence in New Zealand. Read an article about the experiences of Canterbury farmers. The law was once again reviewed in 2018 and Parliament’s webpage includes a useful Q&A.

The former New Zealand Green Party MP Nandor Tánczos famously wore a hemp suit to Parliament during his tenure (1999-2008) but these days the fibre is making a comeback, thanks to its (small g) green credentials.

Denim, Made Good is a collaboration between New Zealand online store Well Made Clothes and clothing label Good Studios to create a line of jeans made from hemp, which they say is one of the world’s most sustainable fibres.

“Hemp doesn’t need any insecticides or pesticides to grow and it requires 50% less water to grow than cotton. We’ve also used nickel-free domes, recycled zips, and paper labels, so every component of these jeans has as little environmental impact as possible.”

Update: A recent newspaper article has alerted me to the fact that hemp seed became legal to use in food products in New Zealand in November 2018. Apparently some 30 nations are producing industrial hemp including Australia, Spain, Austria, Canada and China.

Cameron Sims, of hemp specialist Plant Culture, says hemp is the most nutrient-dense seed in the world. Christchurch-based company The Brothers Green will from April 2019 supply hemp-based snack bars and hemp flour to all the South Island’s New World supermarkets.

Turning the air blue

The latest newsletter from the Royal NZ Institute of Horticultural contains a snippet on the agapanthus fertility and performance trials under way in botanic gardens in Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.

The trials are looking for sterile or low-fertility agapanthus so gardeners can grow these popular plants without contributing to the ‘weediness’ of the surrounding landscapes.

Initiated by Auckland Botanic Gardens in collaboration with the nursery industry, Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research, and others in the Agapanthus Working Group (established in 2012), the trials are looking to quantify the percentage of seed set among cultivars suspected of having low fertility.

White agapanthus flower – the tall-flowered plants come in blue or white. Image: Wikimedia

The plants, native to South Africa, are loved by gardeners for their toughness (easy to grow at the coast, drought tolerant), abundant flowers through the hottest part of summer, evergreen, and their dense root system which can help stabilise tricky banks. Unfortunately, the common tall, blue variety seeds prolifically and so constitutes a threat to native plants in natural landscapes.

In a 2016 paper for Landcare Research, Murray Dawson notes that agapanthus were first recorded as naturalised in New Zealand in 1952. The tall blue-flower plants produce a large number of seeds – and virtually all the seed germinates.

Councils in the Wellington area, for example, are encouraging gardeners to get rid of their common agapanthus – although warn it will take a strong back, a small digger or some serious poison to do the job, while Auckland Regional Council banned the plants in 2008.

Agapanthus ‘Thunderstorm’ has variegated foliage and grows to about 30cm. Image: Ian Duncalf

Four-year trials at Auckland Botanic Gardens and Lincoln University, which ended in 2016, showed that the dwarf-medium Agapanthus ‘Thunderstorm’ and ‘very dwarf’ A. ‘Agapetite’ were likely sterile, while the dwarf blue A. ‘Sarah’, dwarf white A. ‘Finn’, and dwarf dark blue with variegated foliage A. ‘Goldstrike’ have very low fertility.

The report concludes: “’Low-fertility’ is the most accurate term for claims made of most current cultivars.” Read the full report here (opens as a pdf).

Agapanthus ‘Thunderstorm’, bred by Kiwi Ian Duncalf, forms part of the Storm series for Anthony Tesselaar in Australia.

Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’ growing in Alnwick Castle gardens in Northumberland. This is a deciduous plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In her 2017 book, The Wondrous World of Weeds (New Holland), Pat Collins writes that the indigenous people of South Africa grow the plants around their homes as they’re considered a magical aid to fertility and pregnancy!

“To soothe your feet after a long hike, weave the soft leaves into a slipper shape, put over the feet and relax. Has a silky smoothness that eases your aches.

The root is also used by the Xhosa people in a medicinal way, even though the plants are toxic to humans. Note that the sap can cause severe ulceration of the mouth.

The striking flowers of Agapanthus ‘Twister’ – white, pink and blue – seen last year at Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire, England. Another deciduous agapanthus. Photo: Sandra Simpson

‘Twister’, pictured above, was selected in South Africa in 2008 from the breeding programme of Quinton Bean and Andy de Wet and, after extensive trials in around the globe, the first plants were sold in 2013. Apparently, it was the first time the pair had released a plant into the international market – and they’ve had trouble keeping up with demand ever since!

In colder climates, the weedy tendency of agapanthus is dealt to over winter – or they’re grown in pots as house plants. The Royal Horticulture Society noted in 2017 that it had almost five pages of registered plants (but “the fact is that many are very very similar”.) Britain, where they’re also known as African lilies, even maintains a National Collection of Agapanthus.

Read more about plants available in New Zealand in this 2014 post.

Tree of the moment: Illawara flame tree

Brachychiton acerifolius, native to Australia’s east coast rainforests from Illawarra in northern New South Wales to Cape York, is suddenly making its presence known in gardens and on city streets – its common name gives some idea of the vivid scarlet-orange colour.

The flowering is enhanced by the fact that the tree is deciduous before flowering so the branches appear to be ‘burning’.

Illawarra flame tree in central Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Brachychitons are known in Australia as Kurrajong trees and the ever-knowledgeable Stirling Macoboy tells me (in his book) that all the Kurrajongs thrive in warm, dryish climates such as South Africa, California and the Mediterranean.

With our intense periods of rainfall, Tauranga may perhaps just about be on the edge of where the tree will do well in New Zealand. I have noticed several of the Illawarra flame trees planted as street trees in the city tend to produce their bell-shaped flowers only on one side of the tree (with leaves on the other half, it looks a bit strange) but reading more leads me to believe this is fairly common with seed-grown trees. Brachychiton acerifolius for retail now tend to be grafted.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The flowers go on to produce large leather pods which hold corn-like seeds with nutritional value. Apparently indigenous Australians toasted and ate these seeds, used the inner bark for string and bandages, made tools and rums from the trunks and used the flowering as a weather indicator. If you’re collecting the seeds, it’s advised to wear gloves as they’re surrounded by irritant hairs (toasting got rid of these).

In the wild the trees are giants of the rainforest – up to 40m tall – but rarely make that height in cultivation where they grow to more like 10m. Trees grown from seed can take up to 10 years to flower … but it’s worth the wait.

Many Australian writers wax lyrical about the sight of an Illawarra flame tree flowering beside/in front of a jacaranda in bloom but to me it sounds like optical overload!