Seeds of 2016: Pukatea

The Vege Grower and I ended the year with a walk through Waikato’s Maungatautari restoration project, a ‘mainland ecological island’, now also known as Sanctuary Mountain. It is surrounded by the world’s longest predator-proof fence and contains a wonderful array of native birds. However, we were there in the middle of the day so apart from a group of captivating kaka active around their feeding station, we didn’t see or hear many other original birds of Aotearoa, but did sight blackbirds, a thrush, chaffinches and greenfinches…

The area is well endowed with informative signs so a walk along the tracks is educational as well as good for the cardiovascular system!

Pukatea (Laurealia novae-zelandiae) is a wetland tree that grows up to 35m with a straight trunk for most of the way. The genus Laurelia has only two species – one in New Zealand and Laurelia sempervirens in Chile.  The genus is somewhat unusual in having both sexes separate on the same tree, and occasionally together on the same flower. Read more here.

The pukatea’s plank buttresses. Photo: Sandra Simpson


It’s notable for its plank buttresses to keep it steady – the only native tree that grows them and if growing in water it also sends up breathing roots.

With the draining of New Zealand’s wetlands (90 per cent of the North Island’s have gone) it’s a tree that’s not necessarily well known. A sign in the forest (taken from this Te Ara entry) reveals that Maori used the bark as a painkiller and that the bark contains pukateine, which has a chemical structure similar to morphine!

However, what intrigued us about it was its seeds  – you’d think that a big tree would have a big seed, but no. At first, I thought I was looking at a downy feather floating into the area known as The Clearing, but then realised it was a pukatea seed … and later we found a whole stalk of them.

What better way to head into 2016 than marvelling at the tenacity and variety of nature!

A stem of pukatea seeds. The ‘vase-like’ fruits split to release the seeds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The single pukatea seed I saw floating to earth in The Clearing. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Christmas trees

Not exactly a snow-covered pine when I photographed it in Tokyo last month, this tree is, however, worth making a fuss about.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Planted in 1709 in the Hamarikyu Gardens at the mouth of the Sumida River, it is one of the largest black pines (kuromatsu, literally ‘black pine’) in Tokyo. Pinus thunbergii naturally grew along the shores of the inlets and Tokyo Bay but are being threatened by diseases and insects (click on the link for the Latin name to read a great profile of the trees).

The 25ha garden, which is also known as Hama Detached Palace Garden, was originally built in 1654 (the Edo Period) as a retreat for the shogun’s family, who also hunted duck here, and later served as a strolling garden and an imperial detached palace. Vestiges of these old roles are still visible including reconstructed duck hunting blinds and the remains of a seawater moat.

Former US president Ulysses S Grant stayed in a villa in the gardens in 1879 and had green tea in the Nakajima teahouse which sits beside and over a saltwater pond that fluctuates with the tides. However, all the original buildings and almost all of the original plantings (except our tree) were destroyed by fire after an American bombing raid on November 29, 1944. The teahouse has been rebuilt as an exact replica and reopened on April 1, 1946.

Being more than 300 years old means a helping hand is needed, in the form of branch supports, to keep the tree’s form. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read a great blog post about the gardens as a whole and through the seasons here.

Richard Primack and Tatsuhiro Ohkubo have put together a marvellous resource on old and notable trees in Japan – read it here (pdf file) – although our black pine does not feature.

One tree I did see in Tokyo that came with its own ‘Christmas decorations’ was this Japanese yew, one of 209 planted as street trees in the upmarket shopping area of Ginza.

Taxus cuspidata or Japanese yew. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Taxus cuspidata here.

And a very Merry Christmas (or happy holidays)  and a bountiful New Year to all my readers, wherever you may be! Stay safe, have fun and see you back here next year …


We’ve had our very own beehive since early spring – and yesterday had our first crop of honey!

Strictly speaking, it’s not our beehive, we’re just renting it, but they are such amazing little creatures that we certainly feel very protective towards them. Some of the hive went walkabout a couple of weeks ago, fortunately swarming only as far as the other side of the fence. Beekeeper Alan came and was joined by our own Junior Beekeeper to collect them in a box with Alan returning towards dark to take them off to continue as a new colony.

I was a bit concerned when I saw more bees than usual on the outside of the box hive and Junior Beekeeper let Alan know – were we going to lose more to swarming? He duly arrived yesterday and put my fears to rest. Turns out the hive sits at a pretty constant temperature (read why here – the heat of the brood determines what sort of workers they will be) and when it starts to get too hot groups of bees take themselves outside to try and lower the internal temperature. The more I know about bees the more remarkable I think they are!

At any rate Alan reckoned it was time to take our first harvest of honey. And with Junior Beekeeper away checking his own new hive (brought home later last night), Alan roped in The Vege Grower who was more than happy to be hands-on. Alan left us his decanting bucket and with instructions to ‘wring out’ out wax … our final total of honey was 10kg!! We think we’ll call “our” produce 82bee, cause we live at house number 82. But there are lots of punning ideas buzzing around …

While we had a cup of tea afterwards Alan, who used to be a lawyer, said he started as a hobbyist with one hive and then two – and before he knew it he had 20 (and a small word-of-mouth business). Handiest tip of the day: Where to buy plastic, screw-top jars to fill with honey.

Here’s a photo essay of yesterday’s honey collection. All photos by Sandra Simpson.

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Step 1: Alan smokes the landing area to calm the bees. Yes, it looks a little weedy around the hive. Funny, that. (I’ve discovered that dying bees can still sting and that it’s hard to spot a bee in the dusk.)

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Step 2: After the hive’s lid is removed, Alan smokes the top box which is where he’ll take the honey from.

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Alan checks the second box to ensure there’s enough food there and to assess whether to crop that as well (we didn’t).

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Step 3: Remove the frames – Alan exhibits a “perfectly capped” one.

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Step 4: The Vege Grower gets in on the act – gently brushing any bees off the frame.

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Step 5: The Vege Grower pushes the frame through the extractor – a contraption in a plastic box that comprises two blades that lock around the frame. You then push the frame through and the honey slides off. The extractor sits on top of a muslin-lined bucket that has a spigot off one side.

Best not to hang around while extracting the honey because all it does is attract the poor bees. We found we’d carried about a dozen inside with the honey so carefully caught them and released outside again.

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Step 6: Start filling your containers. The muslin stops most wax coming through (we’re likely to get some comb honey next time).

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Step 7: Take the wax out of the bucket and wring it out!

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Step 8: Enjoy the taste of spring … and wonder what you’re going to do with the reality of 10kg of honey (there’s a few glass jars too that aren’t in this photo)!

Read the NZ Beekeepers Forum. And here for the National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand.

Pohutukawa article online

My profile of pohutukawa nurseryman Geoff Canham in the December issue of New Zealand Gardener has been put online at stuff – read it here. And here’s the link to Pohutukawas A Plenty website, Geoff’s nursery.

NZ Gardener is a great magazine and a subscription would make a terrific present for someone. Go here to see subscription details.


Hot on the heels of his Rose of the Year win at the Pacific Rose Bowl Festival, Rob Somerfield was yesterday awarded a Gold Star of the South Pacific (the highest honour) at the New Zealand Trial Grounds in Palmerston North for Fireball.

Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society describes it as a “striking orange floribunda with a silver centre and reverse. Masses of flowers, healthy and a compact, medium grower. To be released in New Zealand in the next couple of years.”

Hayden notes that this is Rob’s sixth Gold Star – Star Quality, Pacific Glory, Sunline, Love Heart, Christchurch Remembers and now Fireball. I believe that equals Sam McGredy’s record. Oh dearie me, no. I was very much mistaken – Sam has 16 Gold Stars although, as Hayden points out, “most of  those were gained when they presented one for best hybrid tea and best floribunda and occasionally for something else as well, so a different era”.

Certificates of Merit went to Rob (for two plants), Bob Matthews of Wanganui and Colin Dickson of Northern Ireland. Read a bit more about Rob and see a picture of Fireball here.

Compiling the items for the Events page can take some time – but it’s always lots of fun and it’s lovely to celebrate the people who come together to display plants, talk about them and get others enthused. And it’s nice to know that some groups are marking notable milestones, long may it continue.

The West Coast Gladiolus Society holds its 60th annual show in Normanby, Taranaki on January 31. As far as I can find out there is no longer a national society so this group is something special. There used to be a New Zealand Gladiolus Council but it was dissolved as an incorporated society in 2009. Read an article about the basics of growing gladis.

According to his entry in the Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Sid Holland (prime minister from 1949-1957) was an authority of dahlias and gladioli.

The Morrinsville Horticulture Society celebrates its centenary show on February 19. At this year’s show the society released a new daffodil, Morrinsville, to mark the milestone – and it was named champion bloom! The bulb has been developed by society members Peter and Lesley Ramsay.

The society established the town’s popular Rose Gardens in 1946 and maintained them for many years before the gardens were purchased by the former Morrinsville Borough Council (now Matamata-Piako District Council).

Read a Papers Past article, published in the Morrinsville News on September 15, 1915, about the ‘newly formed’ society.

Meanwhile, the Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney is preparing to celebrate its bicentenary with a year of special events, including fireworks on New Year’s Eve and the opening of the new Calyx horticultural display centre described by the garden’s executive director Kim Ellis as “a cathedral of plants”. Read more here.

Postcard from Japan

Just back from almost 3 weeks in Japan, where it’s autumn. The Japanese, despite being a very urbanised culture, remain in tune with the seasons and have well-established traditions to mark the passing of time.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the very visible seasonal fruits was the persimmon (Diospyros kaki) – still on trees or peeled and hanging to dry to make hoshigaki, a popular sweet. This website takes you through the steps of drying the persimmons and which fruit to choose. And this Martha Stewart video shows a couple of Japanese-American women explaining how to do it (4:24).

Hanging out to dry in Takayama. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In this June 2015 article about growing persimmons Kate Marshall of Waimea Nurseries says New Zealand annually produces about 15,000 tonnes of commercially grown persimmons (the NZ Persimmon Industry Council is a bit more cautious saying it’s “about” 12,800 tonnes). In 2011, according to Wikipedia, Japan produced 207,500 tonnes and South Korea 390,820.

Fresh for dessert after a wonderful multi-course meal in Kyoto – the flesh was jelly-like and delicious. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And the tree foliage colours really well in autumn, even in Tauranga’s warmer climate.