Warwick Silvester, our good friend, award-winning scientist and native tree expert from Tane’s Tree Trust, takes us through some of the beautiful and unexpected surprises fruiting in our native forest during the Autumn months.
I took a last walk into our bush reserve (Pukemokemoke) a few days ago before the lockdown and, as I have heard at this time of year, the bird song down by the stream was raucous, strident and urgent: actually quite magical. Why? Well the podocarps are in fruit. Especially kahikatea which is just loaded this year.
Autumn is a wonderful time for fruit. We are all enjoying the harvest of apples, pears, figs and feijoas right now but the bush is also being fruitful and it’s the perfect time to collect seed to establish your own small native nursery.
Here is a quick rundown of some of our native species that are fruiting right now.
Even more common and useful as a pioneer is mānuka whose woody capsules house as many as 100 tiny seeds. Mānuka retains its fruit throughout the year, while the much smaller capsules of kānuka are quickly shed.
Kahikatea is our tallest native tree growing to over 60m. like many podocarps it has male and female trees i.e. dioecious. The seeds are borne on a fleshy edible receptacle that changes from green to orange then bright red as autumn progresses giving trees a distinct red tinge in a strong fruiting (mast) year.
I only found this one tōtara fruit, perhaps I was a bit late, normally they provide a rich harvest for birds and their colour is most striking.
Kōhia is the sole member of the passion fruit family in NZ. Open the fruit and you won’t mistake the passion fruit look of the seeds inside. I was a bit confused to find kōhia plants with many fruit while other very large plants had none, until I realised that kōhia, like many of the podocarps, are dioecious with separate male and female plants.
Here are the common and vigorous māhoe. They have been struggling in the drought and this one, having lost most of its leaves, was pouring all its energy into fruiting.
Image: Wikimedia Commons - Rudolph89
And then there is kaikomako which finishes fruiting in early Autumn. Reputed to be the favourite fruit of the bellbird.
And of course, the common tarata with its large fruit opening to produce black sticky seeds.