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Anything But Pines, by Ben Gaia

"Anything but pines" is the buzzword when talk turns to the "Billion Trees" plan. A younger generation of foresters, who have seen their elders milling 30 year old cedar and macrocarpa, are willing to bank on the market for good quality softwoods in the years ahead. But please - not pines. So what do we grow then?

The real problem is that pines (and eucalypts) blow down in those pesky cyclones we keep getting. Last year left rows of pine forests on hillsides lying flat across more than half of the pine forests in many South Island mountainous areas. The owners and investors in these large scale forests are really fed up having to replant after fifteen or so years of wasted time. The will to plant pines is ebbing, and we are all looking around for an easy quick growing softwood tree to fill the top end of processed wood demand. We can grow, mill, and make fine finished products out of these trees, and these are the ones to plant for timber production in thirty years' time.

Number one: Cryptomeria japonica, or Sugi. Far and away the winner, ticks all the boxes, grows fast west of the Divides, resists pests, the timber is highly valued Japanese Cedar (or Japanese redwood): we can grow it and we should. Dense root systems mean stands of Sugi are less likely to blow over than pines are.

16 year old Cryptomeria japonica tree

Second place has to go to Leyland Cypress. Haggerston Grey and Leighton Green are fantastic, also sterile so good for high country areas to prevent wildling spread. Although expensive to produce by cuttings, it outgrows Macrocarpa and Lusitanica but is similar to Lawson, another brilliant cypress wood, with light colour and a strong scent which resists insect attack.

Third I suggest all the other fast and healthy cypresses: selected Macrocarpas eg Longwood; Mexican cypress, Arizonas for east of the mountains; Lawson cypress, and "Ovensii cypress", which looks like a Lawson but is more likely to grow nice and straight, and fast with unfluted round trunks.

12 year old pruned Lawson cypress

Fourth: Everyone is talking about Redwood and for a reason: the Americans see a dollar in growing it here in NZ. This is because it grows in fifty years instead of eighty! So go figure, as they say. The Redwood is fernickity as to where she grows though, be warned. A sheltered, deep soil, place a few k's inland from the sea with mists and rain all year round is what they adore. And not cattle and gorse, they do not adore those. They will need tending and fencing for ten years. Then they really start to get going! Exciting to watch from year ten on if you are like me and watch them growing. Also Redwood has dense root systems for wind resistance. Forest owners are sick of pines blowing down. Why waste fifteen years for nothing when that time could be used growing Redwood timber.

Fifth we should remember Totara. Our native timber answer to the question "If not pines, what?" The timber is very like Redwood and Cedar, straight grained, easy to carve, weatherproof, and a pink colour fading to silver. More to the point, the young totara trees are spiky, and cattle will leave them to grow. It will grow as fast as Redwood, one fifty-year rotation and bingo, we could have hills covered with totara instead of that oh so dreadful Pinus radiata. Easy to propagate too for the busy tree nurseryman. Good brownie points for everyone. Totara.Our Tree! Plant it! Cue a series of ads with Crumpy. Hiluxes. Toia Mai! Te Waka!

Number six on our list should be Oak. Not widely known or planted in NZ, outside of Hagley Park, it grows really well, and like Redwood it gets exciting to observe after a sluggish first ten years. It forms huge shade trees with acorns for pigs and golden autumn foliage from Elf Land. Being deciduous is great for farm foresters as the light gets in to the pasture. Plus the fallen leaves of oaks bring up deep nutrients from the subsoil and scatter them on the surface. Oaks are fussy about their site and like the lowlands rather than the mountain slopes. The timber is very waterproof. It built many great World Empires and their navy ships, including Britain. There it is grown in a ninety year production cycle, loving chalk and lime country and will stand for five hundred years through most (but not all) hurricanes. We are good at building boats too, so let's set up NZ's future shipbuilding industry.

These would be my top choices for all foresters who are sick and tired of pines (and Eucalypts) blowing down. All these trees have proven growth success in the New Zealand landscape; all have proven local and overseas markets waiting to be filled. We are familiar with them all and they are already growing happily around us.

So let's crank it up and grow lots more of these, maybe one billion to start with, then maybe another billion after that!

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