Monday, March 31, 2008

The oldest exotic fruit tree in New Zealand?

John Butler Pear tree said to be planted in 1819

The Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand was the meeting point between Maori and world travellers, explorers and traders. Here in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s many ships visited and traded produce. In 1812 the Rev Samuel Marsden set up a mission Station at Rangihou and in 1818 set up the Kerikeri Mission Station. The Rev John Butler accompanied Marsden and was left in charge of the new Mission at Kerikeri.

Records show that Butler planted 100 fruit trees on 5 October 1819 and a further 85 the next day. This was part of the garden development that Marsden had devised as a plan to make the Missions self sufficient and to provide training through the “useful arts” that, it was hoped, would provide a framework for Christian instruction.

Today surviving in this area is one lone Pear tree, Pyrus communis, possibly a Bon Cretian variety, which is thought to be from this original planting. It is thought to be the sole survivor of this planting. There is no list of tree types planted by Butler on these days but there are records shortly after reporting the growth of a number of different fruit trees.

However nearby are the remains of other fruit trees that could easily date from this period. They appear to be plum trees or similar. One is reasonably intact although one large branch is leaning over onto the ground. The other two appear to be shooting from a very large basal stump. They could have been damaged or even cut down at one time and this is regrowth. Further investigation into these trees is required. Marsden records in 1820 that orange, lemon, apple quince pear, peach, apricot, almond and plumb trees were growing at Kerikeri.

On a recent visit to Kerikeri to identify significant items of the Mission Gardens provided the opportunity to check this tree.

There is no doubt it is very old and easily dates from that period. On investigation a second pear tree was found in the “Kemp Garden”. Although this garden was not developed until about 1928 this tree is equally as old but not in such good condition. There is no sign of any other old fruit tree in this garden. It is not in as good health as the Kerikeri pear and requires some care and attention to bring it back to good health.

Interestingly H H Allan (1940) in developing the first preliminary list of historic trees identified two pear trees which he described as being “ …brought to NZ by Rev Samuel Marsden in 1818 or earlier” One was on the property of Misses Kemp being 50 foot tall with a 39 foot spread and the other on the property of Mr Wallace also being 50 foot tall with a 46 foot spread and girth of13 feet.

In 2008 the second pear tree is not of the dimensions stated by Allan and as far as is known the Kemp land was never owned by a Mr Wallace. Further investigation into the Wallace tree is required.

Burstall (1984) states that the KeriKeri Pear tree used to be much taller than it is now. The top was blown off it in a storm (it was struck by lightening) and the subsequent pruning has probably helped it to survive. It is partly hollow and there are signs of decay but it is very healthy, and blossoms in spring and fruits regularly.

The pear tree on the Kemp land was planted as part of the Kemp orchard. This was developed about 1828. Whether or not this tree was transplanted from the Butler orchard is conjecture but this could have happened as such tree would have been difficult to obtain, and probably only from Australia, or propagated from one of the original trees.

Kemp Orchard tree planted about 1828

There is an element of doubt about the Kerikeri tree raised by Easedale in her personal thoughts on the tree. In it she has carried out investigation into settlement and roading patterns. It is her view this tree was planted in 1828. Again this tree could have already been planted and growing here and only transplanted to its current position. In reality we will never know.

There is no doubt that this tree is very old and consensus is that it was planted by Butler in 1819. There is no doubt in my mind that the Kemp Pear tree is equally as old but would have been transplanted to its current position in as late as 1828.

The key thing is that both pear trees are significant trees in this area and for New Zealand.

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