Intriguing trees

Have seen some interesting trees lately – and yes, it is winter, which makes them all the more intriguing.

The unusual flowers of Sassafras tzumu.

Sassafras tzumu is native to central and southwestern China. Read a little more about it here by someone who has been to China to collect seed! I spotted my specimen in McLaren Falls Park last weekend. As well as the “flluffy” flowers, it also offers autumn colour.

I recently discovered a group of Cryptomeria japonica Elegans (Japanese plume cedar) in the grounds of Government Gardens in Rotorua – my eye caught by both the unusual shape of the trees, as well as their chocolatey-coppery colour. Could it be a reaction to the sulphur-ish air and ground?

Well, no. The trees were simply wearing their winter coats. In summer the soft foliage is a blue-green.

Cryptomeria japonica Elegans.

This has such a striking shape, doesn’t it? The single-trunked ones were growing on a slight lean and very definitely plume-like.

Thought I’d finish with a native – golden totara (Podocarpus totara Aurea), the acid yellow foliage not an easy colour to incorporate into a garden but what’s gardening without a challenge?

Golden totara with a white-flowered manuka at Te Puna Quarry Park.

I have seen golden totara used successfully for topiary and there the colour was an advantage as it really made the piece stand out.


2 thoughts on “Intriguing trees

  1. Hello Sandra.

    To make a long story short, I’m pursuing a project to brew American-style Root Beer in New Zealand, sourced from local ingredients. Sassafras is one of the main flavours in root beer, and until today, I thought it didn’t grow in NZ. We stumbled across a sassafras tzumu tree at the Auckland Botanic Gardens, but of course that’s quite off limits to me since all the plants there are protected. Thought I’d have a look around to see where else they might be found, and I found your story here.

    This is wonderful, to me, because part of our project is to tour around the country with our little boy to collect the ingredients, teaching and learning traditions all the while. With that, I wonder if you might know any more about where to find them, how I might grow one myself, how they got here, etc. At the very least, you’ve inspired a soon-to-be-planned trek to Tauranga to visit this park.

    Thank you for this fantastic resource you’ve created as well. Cheers.


  2. Hello Brian,

    Sorry for the delay in responding but I’ve been doing a bit of spadework to see if I can offer any more information that may be useful. It is important to note that since 1976 safrole (made from the root and bark of the sassafras) has been banned as a flavouring by the FDA “as a likely carcinogen”. According to Wikipedia, common flavourings in root beer now are vanilla, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), cherry tree bark, liquorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, clove and honey.

    Also have a look at this website: which says that safrole-free sassafras is now available too.

    Wairere Nursery may be able to help source a tree:, but I’m still following up and will let you know if I can find any other possible sources.

    All the best,

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