03 December, 2011

The California trees that came to New Zealand

It had been an interesting drive north from Los Angeles.  Following a 12,000 kilometer flight across the Pacific that had not crossed land.  But I was past San Simeon before I saw the first of the Macrocarpa trees that I had come such a long way to see.

That single tree stood alone in a field, but I then began to see more of them as I wound my way onto the fabled Big Sur road. My destination was the nature reserve at Point Lobos.

Macrocarpa and Radiata Pine, (Known there as Monterey Cypress and Monterey Pine) began to appear more frequently the more I traveled north.  They seemed to be in places  close to the road, and most likely planted.  Because  in the whole world the Macrocarpa only occurs naturally on only a few hundred acres, on two sites.
Big Sur Highway.  Macrocarpa and some Radiata Pine behind. 
At home in New Zealand  these two probably are the most familiar tree.  They are everywhere and the pine, Radiata is in vast plantations.  The Macrocarpa often surrounds older farmsteads and sometimes it's a lonely house site where the house has long since disappeared.
Monterey Pine.  "Radiata Pine.  Big Sur. September 2011.
The Radiata is the most planted tree in the world now.  With massive plantings in South America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.  But it's natural range is nearly as restricted as Macrocarpa, with only a dozen or so sites in California.
Planted Radiata off the Big Sur Road.  Notice the 'wilding' young pines further down the hill.
Not many trees but the Bixby bridge is a Big Sur icon.  Nearly as good as the Grafton Bridge in Auckland
Monterey Pine at Point Lobos.  Just 5 Kilometers south of 'Carmel by the Sea' California.
Radiata.  Monterey Pine.
"The greatest meeting of land and water in the world." is the bold claim for Point Lobos.  And there is something amazing here at Point Lobos.  It seems the whole coastline here is a ferment of life.  Whales and seals abound.

There is no bad place to point the camera.  Just like Central Otago.
Seals, sea lions and sea otters.  It can't be a surprise.  This place is incredible.

The orange stuff above is a green algae.  With Carotene ! Don't ask me how that works.  But it doesn't harm the trees.

It's been a beautiful blue day but not hard to sense that that fog is the norm here.   I am told these trees have months without rain in the summer and gain their moisture from the coastal fogs.  Not so sure I can understand that either.  I am very familiar with these trees at home in New Zealand and none of them I am sure needs fog.
Macrocarpa.  Monterey Cypress.  Notice the dry ground.

There is a seal down there
Evening in 'Carmel by the sea'.  Time for a beer and a steak.  But spot the macrocarpa. The big trees are Pine.
It would be easy to say that the trees came to New Zealand with the gold rush miners  from California and likely some did.  But the first known Radiata was planted in New Zealand in 1859 at Mount Peel Station a full two years before the gold rush.  That's about 250 Kilometers north of our gold field.  It was an unpopulated area and it's unlikely there were more than a dozen humans  between the two areas.

In those days (1850s) development of farming in southern New Zealand was not by struggling pioneer families.  It was the time of the land barons, well capitalised big enterprises with dozens of employees and the resources to import and develop what they needed in quantity.  Many of the early specimens came via nurseries and botanical interests in England, France and Australia, and of course California.
Some suggestions as to how the Monterey trees came to New Zealand.
Despite their unique and limited natural range both Macrocarpa and Radiata have great usefulness.  They are used for planted and managed forests all over the world.
Macrocarpa Plantation.  Note the pruning that has been done to ensure knot free and straight timber.
Radiata is now the most planted tree in the world in hugely commercial plantations. There is a big timber industry based around Radiata.
A local Radiata plantation.  Straight lines and precision.
This local managed plantation is used to stablise encroaching sand.
Rural Areas across New Zealand feature Radiata and Macrocarpa Shelter Belts.  Most farms will have these trees forming a background in the landscape.

All of the dark trees in this photo of the 'Field of Gold' are Radiata, the Monterey Pine a long way from home.  The shadow in the foreground is formed by a big belt of radiata that shelters the house from the winter winds.  The big tree to the left  of middle is a radiata.  And the band of Radiata from left to right across the photo are really big specimens.  They are well distant -- nearly a kilometer away.

These two tree varieties are grown because their timber is so useful  and forms most of New Zealand's forestry and timber industry and Radiata especially is the major construction timber here now.
The lovely neighbours building a deck.
This deck is really large, well built and has taken a lot of timber.  Macrocarpa decking, Monterey Cypress, with a frame of Radiata, Monterey pine.  The steps are Radiata. Note the big Radiata and the small one to the left in the photo above.  And that yellow patch is California Poppy.
Radiata big timber frame, Macrocarpa Decking.  Radiata trees and Mt Difficulty.
(you do have to look again at the photo, at the light on our mountain.)

So these trees have come a long way from California.  Cypress and Pine from those rare sites are an everyday part of our New Zealand landscape.

Look at this other blog on the Radiatia Pine
- End


  1. The trees getting fog in NZ? When we built this house we wanted a powder coated metal roof, so we wouldn't be stuck with constant repainting in future. What we got, came from NZ, proudly high quality and proof against rusting - because nowhere in NZ is far from the sea. So they said.

  2. Some of the trees here in New Zealand get fog certainly. But can't see that any rely on it. The Monterey trees rely on it apparently but the same varieties do not here.
    San Francisco is noted for sea fog. If you believe some of the local, some suburbs there have it half the time or more. Others not so.
    The 'Field of gold' is as far as you can get from the coast in New Zealand. About 230 kilometers to drive and two and a half hours.
    I do recall that in Namibia, north of you, in the coastal desert there are plant communities that would not exist without the sea fog.

  3. I love Monterey, at least the way it used to be. Haven't been there for a while. But I had no idea that the pines were so special. Thanks for educating me and also for your comment regarding my gate.

  4. Wayoutflora gardens in that fog belt. In Namibia there are beetles that live on the sanddunes. They use their shells to condense water, then lick the drops off. We sometimes get the edge of the fog here in Porterville, because it hits the mountain.

  5. The connection isn't with the UK. Leastwise not the primary one anyway. It's Spain, through Mexico, these trees were imported to England in the 17th during the landscaping binge they had. We forget that Spain was in California 300 years before any English speaker settles there.
    How they ended up in NZ is anyone's guess. But for certain the royal navy was planting trees on unsettled out of the way places well before any settlements. It wouldn't surprise me if the tree wasn't growing on the Falklands, St Georgia and Tristan da Cunha. Remember the Bounty was carrying Breadfruit trees.

  6. Hi Vince. Try this.
    It's written from the New Zealand perspective and portrays that wonderful 19th century picture of inquiring naturalists and amateur science. These Victorian men spending what were relatively huge sums to import new and unusual fauna. and it would not have been physically easy.
    Spain. Now there is an idea. The pre - american history of california is fascinating (pre - american california sounds an oxymoron - but it isn't) I must find our more about that spanish landscaping phase. Unavoidable also is the gold rush, the vast numbers of people travelling around the pacific at that time. And that many of our local families are of 'American' origin at that time.

  7. These both are majestic trees and your story is fascinating.

    So glad you could see the best of California in the best month to do so.

  8. Interesting about your fog comment. What's your annual precipitation? In the summer here on the Monterey Peninsula the fog can be so thick that it drips off the trees. It's called fog interception and is a significant source of water for understory plants. I remember seeing those plantations when I was down your way and couldn't figure out why they were pruned so peculiarly. Great post.

  9. Thanks Katie. Our precipitation is about 300mm, say 12 inches, a year. So it's dry and near desert. No humidity. But these Californians grow like crazy anywhere in this country. Auckland 1200mm and Dunedin 700mm.
    Fog. It's rare here. Elsewhere variable. But nowhere would it be a significant moisture source for these fine trees.

  10. I'm really surprised, no idea they could do so well in other parts of the world. They do not like Southern California much at all--dry is fine, but they cannot abide our hot, dry winds.

    What an informative post, thank you!

  11. Pinus Radiata - Monterey Pine. The most planted tree in the world. It is amazing. Good to hear from you.

  12. During my local history research I conducted an exercise of sourcing who brought pinus radiata to Aotearoa. My informant Charlie Perriam was a great lover of the tree and in fact planted the lines trailing up the flanks of Sugarloaf. The Perriam ancesters had mined in California, came from Devon. John and Charlotte Perriam farmed at One Tree Hill in the late 1850's. This was home of the famed pined culled by activist Mike Smith.

    I found that Charlie's claim was largely rhetorical, but it was an interesting exercise.


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