Plant Collector – Pinus montezumae

Pinus montezumae - just one of the more special pines

Pinus montezumae - just one of the more special pines

The pine tree family is a great deal more extensive than the common radiata pine we know so well in this country. Perhaps it is because the timber tree is such a widespread and drearily predictable planting that we tend to take little note of the other 100 or so species in the group. The beautiful Pinus montezumae is a case in point. It comes from Mexico and into Central America (think Guatemala) though usually growing in areas with some altitude which cools temperatures. Despite this origin, the Montezuma is hardy for our New Zealand conditions.

What sets the Montezuma Pine apart as a specimen tree is its very long needles which give the appearance of a pendulous or spreading habit of growth. The needles can be 25cm or even more, whereas most pine needles are in the 10 to 15cm range. Because they are so long, they appear to curve and drape themselves in a most elegant manner. They are also of what is called glaucous hue. This simply means they are toned to a bluish-grey in colour, not the forest green we associate with common pines.

You do need space. It will make a large tree, over 30 metres or more so it is not one for the back yard. As with all the pine family, it likes open, sunny conditions. It is not a forest or woodland tree. What about the pine plantations, you may ask. They are planted at the same time and at prescribed spacings which allows equal sun to all the plants. A plantation is different to a forest. With hindsight, I would plant the Montezuma in splendid glory all on its own. We have a few lower, evergreen shrubs beneath ours and they tend to look a bit scruffy when the falling needles catch in their foliage. At least keep underplanting deciduous for easier grooming.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.