This Sunday's working bee will be our last day of planting for the year. We will be planting at two sites in the main gully, roughly 500m from the Marae carpark. The larger of the two sites is a landslip that occurred last November. It is sheltered from the worst of the winter weather by the lay of the land and by some quite well-established trees from the first decade of planting at Manawa Karioi. Because of this, we will be able to put in a high number of trees that normally need to go under established canopy. These include kahikatea, turepo, matai, miro, kohekohe, nikau, tawa and pigeonwood.
Have a look at the different kinds of ground surface on the slip face and you can get the idea that some plants will prefer certain spots, some others. Mānuka, which we looked at last week, may be found around the edges of the slip. Another lovely tree species – kōtukutuku or tree fuchsia – might naturally be found towards the moister bottom end of a slip in the forest, and this weekend we have a few to plant out.
You may know and love an introduced fuchsia from your garden, but there are also four native species in Aotearoa, including kōtukutuku. What a beautiful tongue-twister of a name, and as a bonus, it is the largest tree fuchsia in the world among the 640 species of the Onagraceae or fuchsia family! There are also three other New Zealand fuchsia species, which are shrubs and vines, as well as the Epilobium genus of nearly 40 species of gracefully flowering herbs, but let’s just look at kōtukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata).
Kōtukutuku can grow to up to 14 m high and 80 cm diameter and is easily recognisable by its gnarled trunk and light-brown, peeling paper-thin bark. It often grows in regenerating low forest (for example after landslides or fire) and hence these larger trees stand out easily. The leaves are also thin and Kōtukutuku is one of our rare deciduous species, especially in the colder south. Like many of the introduced fuchsia species, the flowers turn a beautiful red-purple colour. The berries, called konini, also turn dark purple, almost black. Flowers and berries both hang directly from the branch, like kohekohe – another unusual feature of this species. The wood is gnarled and reddish-dark brown. Although beautiful and strong, it’s too twisted to be widely used commercially, but for the patient woodworker can form a lovely element of ornamental work.
In Wellington, you can find the occasional naturally growing kōtukutuku close to Manawa Karioi, in Carey’s Gully in the Owhiro catchment. There are also some fine specimens growing at Otari-Wilton Bush but the place where it can really be seen in profusion is in side valleys coming down to the Orongorongo Stream, at least where possums are being controlled. The leaves, flowers, and fruit are like “ice cream” foods for the possum and when they were not being controlled it looked as though kōtukutuku could become locally extinct in the Orongorongo forest, but fortunately, they have recovered there, as well as in the Wellington City places mentioned. Fortunately, possums are now a rarity at Manawa Karioi as well, and tui –for whom kōtukutuku is also a favourite food – becoming common. So with continued vigilance and the growth of our planted trees, kōtukutuku will become a
local feature here too and provide habitat for a burgeoning bird population.
We depart from the interpretation board shelter in the Tapu Te Ranga Marae carpark at 1 pm sharp. The driveway is signposted at the end of Danube St, Island Bay. Gloves, tools, and trees provided. We normally work until 3 pm. If you arrive late and can't find us, call 0221 277361.
As this is the end of planting for the year, we are heading to the marae for a special afternoon tea. We will be holding more working bees over the spring and summer focussing on track maintenance.
Written by Paul Blaschke
A tree enthusiast and an ex-resident of Island Bay. Vanessa brings her digital skills to the volunteer team at Manawa Karioi - one of the oldest reforestation projects in Wellington.
With over 17 years experience volunteering with Manawa Karioi, Ross has a detailed knowledge of the project.
Paul Blaschke is an environmental consultant and part-time university lecturer. He loves living and working in Wellington’s southern suburbs, whether in the Owhiro catchment, the Town Belt near his home, or on the slopes at Manawa Karioi.
Chris and his partner and their 3 children were at the dawn planting of the first tree in 1991. He has maintained his involvement in the project ever since and gets great satisfaction now from seeing how much the trees have grown and how the associated native ecosystems have developed over those 26 years. Chris emphasises that providing tracks to enable the public to enjoy Manawa Karioi, and carbon sequestration, are both integral parts of the project.