These early flowering cherry trees from Taiwan get a mixed reception in New Zealand. There is no doubt that our native birds find them hugely appealing. In an environment filled with food sources, it is the campanulatas to which they head en masse. But, and it is a huge but, most campanulatas set prodigious amounts of seed and because these form as little cherries, tasty to our fruit-eating native birds, they are spread far and wide. Indeed, seedling cherries are one of the worst weeds we have in our own garden and it takes constant management to stop the spread. So bad is it that the councils further north have banned seeding campanulata varieties and some folk would like to see total eradication across the country. We would be very sorry to see all campanulatas banned but certainly the future lies in sterile selections. Sterility means that they don’t set seed so they won’t spread but we get to keep the mass blooming and the tui – and indeed korimako, our shy bellbirds – get to keep their favourite food source. Pink Clouds and Mimosa are both sterile varieties which date back to the work Felix Jury did on them, but the sugar pink colour is often less favoured to the cerises and reds. Unfortunately, the good compact growing, dark flowered variety named for Felix by Duncan and Davies – Prunus Felix Jury – is not sterile. We have a sterile cerise red which is a great performer but at over 12 metres tall and 10 metres wide, it is far too large for domestic gardens. But there is hope. Mark has identified one which is sterile, has good colour and does not look as if it will get anywhere near as large. “Now look ‘ere, Mr and Mrs Kereru, we need to have words about this latest taste treat you have found. This just won’t do at all. There is plenty of other food here for you but magnolia buds are off limits, especially the first flowers opening on Magnolia Vulcan.”
I would make jokes about Mr and Mrs Kereru dicing with death on this latest escapade, but some sensitive soul would take me seriously. Kereru are our large native wood pigeon and were a valued food source for Maori in times past. But they are very slow breeders and are suffering from habitat loss so are now totally protected. There has been a bit of a scandal recently about kereru being served as part of a traditional feast – did the Parliamentarians know they were eating kereru? – so it is poor form to even make jokes about eating them. Besides, even when a beautiful plump specimen died before my eyes after flying into one of our house windows, we could not bring ourselves to try cooking it. Instead we bought window decals from Bird Rescue to try and prevent such a thing happening again.