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Old Trees of the Gold Rush - by Ben Gaia, www.dialatree.co.nz



This Lawsons cypress is about 120 years old near the west coast ghost town of Goldsborough. It is 33 metres tall with a triple leader. The main trunk is 120cm diameter which shows a growth rate of 10mm diameter each year. How did it get here in the middle of the mined native bush backroads? An old miner must have planted it in his cottage garden, maybe to remind him of the California forests of his childhood home. After the California gold rushes of 1849 the shiny stuff led a lot of American miners here to the West Coast rushes, and their expertise helped to develop these areas. The number of macrocarpas, Lawson cypress, and redwoods around convinces me that the miners brought them to the area. Specimens like this mark the new, twentieth century: the coming of the railways and the increased use of steam power.

Nearby is a big old redwood, not as tall but split by the rough sea breezes to five big main trunks, so it is really a giant 30 metre overgrown bush. The caravan shows the scale. Despite its size this tree could be younger than the Lawson but may also be Edwardian. It is certainly a visible feature of the gold panning camp site.

Finally on the road nearer to town where the lifestyle blocks and small farms display many different types of tree, here is a good solid hedge of Japanese cedars, Cryptomeria japonica, keeping the southerly winds - and nosey passing drivers - out of the paddocks. They might have once been planted by Chinese miners but few old ones have survived. Commonly you will spot these thirty year old - and - something Sugi shelter belts from the nineteen-eighties and nineties. Yes, tree cropping and agroforestry were even trendier then than they are now! Lots of forward thinking plantings date from those heady days. You will notice all the usual suspects also being trialled: eucalypts, pine, poplars, blackwoods. Of those five well-tried "nineties" species I feel the Sugi has won the long game, being reliable, hardy, straight, healthy and big but not too big. And most of all, windproof.

Looking around these ghost towns I could rave about the big old spruces (a success) along the Stafford Road, or the Red Cedars, all stunted and sweeping, (a failure). It remains to be seen which giant old trees survive from our own gardens. But I hope these historic specimens survive the digger's blades.

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