Introduction

Keen Forest and Bird volunteers invested 147 rata years in the Manawatu Gorge Scenic Reserve within a couple of hours last weekend.

Date:  22 May 2009

Keen Forest and Bird volunteers invested 147 rata years in the Manawatu Gorge Scenic Reserve within a couple of hours last weekend.

Twenty-one northern rata (Metrosideros robusta), grown by 2008 Conservation Award winner Chris Thomasen, were planted out on the face of the western entrance to the Manawatu Gorge. The seven year old plants were grown on in Miss Thomasen’s Feilding backyard with funding from Project Crimson. Since 2005, they have planted nearly 40 rata around the western entrance of the gorge.

The Manawatu Gorge was once ablaze with the red of northern rata blooms during the summer months. Unfortunately, rata is a particular favourite of the possum and is very vulnerable to damage from possum browse. These days, it takes quite a bit of patience to spot the red hint of rata amongst the vegetation in the Manawatu Gorge, but thanks to a multi agency biodiversity project and the enthusiasm of dedicated individuals like Miss Thomasen, the area may once again be a vision of rata red.

The northern rata tree can grow up to 30 metres tall with a massive trunk of up to 2 metres or more in diameter. It usually grows from the top down, when the seed germinates in the crown of another tree – often an aging host, where organic matter has built up over the years. The northern rata forms a trunk by sending down roots that fuse and slowly encircle the host tree, eventually taking its place in the forest canopy. Pohutukawa is a relative but its natural range is north of Taranaki, so rata is our local equivalent of the New Zealand Christmas tree.

Chris Thomasen, (second from left) taking a break with Forest and Bird members.
Chris Thomasen, (second from left) taking
a break with Forest and Bird members

Planted rata will grow from the ground up, but it can be vulnerable to frost, hence the need for rata trees to be at least one metre high and ideally planted on a slope. “Its no use putting them in any smaller, they just get lost in the grass for years” said Miss Thomasen. Seed is collected from the gorge and propagated by Miss Thomasen. There are hundreds of rata plants of various ages dotted throughout Miss Thomasen’s property, so local community groups and volunteers, such as Ballance School and the Ashhurst Domain caretakers have taken on some of the seedlings. Ballance School has also planted trees at the eastern end of the gorge.

Department of Conservation area manager, Jason Roxburgh, is impressed by the long term commitment of Forest and Bird to this project. “The Manawatu Gorge is an excellent example where huge conservation gains can be made through the co-operation of many partners and supporters.”

Contact

Vivienne McGlynn
Biodiversity Programme Manager
vmcglynn@doc.govt.nz

Manawatu Base
Phone:   +64 6 350 9700
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   manawatu@doc.govt.nz
Address:   717 Tremaine Avenue
Palmerston North 4414
Postal Address:   Private Bag 11010
Palmerston North 4442
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