Lone Pine – and its descendents

Young pines grown from seed gathered from an authenticated descendent of the Lone Pine at Gallipoli were planted in various parts of New Zealand at events on Anzac Day.

The Battle of Lone Pine began on August 6, 1915, and is the site of the main Australian war memorial at Gallipoli in southwestern Turkey. It’s also one of the five Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries on the peninsula that are burial places for those whose names are unknown.

Dr Toby Stovold with his crop of young pines. Photo: Scion

The authenticated Pinus brutia tree is at Paeroa Golf Club and seeds were gathered in 2012 by Dr Toby Stovold of Scion (formerly NZ Forest Research Institute) in Rotorua. About 50 trees were propagated by Dr Stovold and gifted to RSAs (Returned Service Association) around the country. As well as the RSA plantings, seedlings have also gone to the National Army Museum in Waiouru for a memorial garden, Christchurch’s Park of Remembrance and Government Gardens in Rotorua.

Lone Pine cemetery at Gallipoli. The tree pictured is a stone pine, whereas the original is thought to have been a Turkish red pine. Photo: Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry about the cemetery (linked to above) mentions two types of pine that have grown at the site – claiming the original to have been Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine) and its replacement as Pinus pinea (stone pine). So I wonder how the Paeroa tree was ‘authenticated’ if the original tree no longer exists? Family legends are notoriously unreliable and there are many, many trees that have been grown from seeds and acorns ‘brought back from the war’. In this case, the Turkish red pine in Paeroa is said to trace back to a pine cone brought home by Australian soldier Sergeant Keith McDowell after World War 1.

This website says Pinus brutia is ‘closely related’ to Pinus halepensis so all may be well. The common name for P. brutia is Calabrian pine – Calabria is a province in Italy, called Brutia by the Romans.

Other trees around New Zealand have also claimed to be descended from Gallipoli’s Lone Pine but so far the claims have been found to be astray. However, there is a tree in Rotorua Cemetery which Dr Stovold is testing. Read about that here. The tree was planted on Anzac Day 1965 by Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Bassett, VC.

In a 2007 article in the NZ Foresty Journal Mike Wilcox and David Spencer looked into the story of Lone Pine tree seeds making their way to this part of the world and had this to say: “After World War I Sergeant Keith McDowell brought back a cone from the famous Lone Pine, from which four trees were later planted at war memorials in Victoria, Australia, in 1933-34. These are Pinus brutia. However, most Anzac pine trees planted in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate men lost in the Gallipoli campaign, and in particular the Lone Pine Ridge, are Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) which does not grow naturally in Gallipoli … The origin of these P. halepensis trees is attributed to a cone collected by an Australian soldier [from a branch or log] in the Turkish trenches … probably brought in from a woodlot or hedgerow planted on the Gallipoli Peninsula … the only authentic Pinus brutia in New Zealand from the Gallipoli Lone Pine seems to be the one at the Paeroa Golf Course very likely derived from the cone Sergeant McDowell brought back with him to Australia, and as such must rank as one of the most historic trees in the country.” Read the full article here (downloads as a pdf).

They go on to mention Sergeant McDowell’s story: “During the withdrawal from Gallipoli … Sergeant Keith McDowell, picked up a pine cone from the original Lone Pine and placed it in his haversack as a souvenir. Sergeant McDowell carried the cone for the remainder of the war and when he returned to Australia, gave it to his aunt, Mrs Emma Gray … ‘Here Aunty, you’ve got a green thumb, see if you can grow something out of this,’ the late Mrs Gray’s son Alexander recalled. But it wasn’t until some 12 years later that Mrs Gray planted the few seeds from the cone, four of which sprouted and grew … One was planted in Wattle Park, Melbourne in 1933, another at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, another at the Soldiers Memorial Hall … just north-east of Warrnambool, and the fourth, on 23 January, 1934, in the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens.”

Wilcox and Spencer relate the story that the seeds of the Paeroa tree came from Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens from a tree descended from the original Lone Pine – and although there is no record of one of Mrs Gray’s trees being planted there, the story may simply have become muddled over time. A Melbourne park mixed up with Warrnambool Botanic Gardens perhaps. We’ll never know the truth about these trees but the sentiment is surely in the right place.

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