Treemageddon. Again.

The snapped trunk measures about shoulder height on me

Trees have a finite life span. It is just that not many of them get to see out their allotted life span without being felled earlier in the process. This one just fell, completely rotten at the base. We didn’t hear it come down which is surprising in itself because it is H U G E. We assume it must have happened in the middle of Friday night’s storm which had very high winds and we were probably tucked up in bed behind our double glazing. It took me until Saturday afternoon to notice that there seemed to be a lot more light at the top of the hill behind the house.

A natural throne remains

It is a tawa, a native tree, botanically Beilschmiedia tawa, a member of the lauraceae or laurel family. What makes it special is that this tree almost certainly pre-dated European settlement. This area was predominantly tawa forest but had already been largely clear felled by the time Mark’s great grandfather bought the land around 1870. The earliest European settlement in this area took place around 1850. This is one of a just a few remaining tawa trees sitting on a steep bank, now part of the garden.

Epiphytes galore, from February last year

I photographed it earlier because of the prodigious quantity of epiphytes that had built up over the years. In our mild, humid climate, epiphytes thrive. Much of this lot was Collospermum hastatum but these long-established epiphytic colonies are an entire matrix of naturally occurring plants. The problem is that there is a huge weight in them that eventually brings down the branch, and sometimes the whole tree in the process. It is just part of the cycle of nature.

This cycle of nature has done quite a bit of damage but only to the understorey plants. While tawa is another of our native hard woods, we can’t get the timber out because of where it is. It will be the usual process of clearing the debris, getting out what firewood we can and stowing all the vegetative waste neatly in situ. The main trunk will remain where it is, embedded on legs formed by its own branches driven deep into the earth and it will outlast us. We will have to re-route a garden track so that it passes beneath the tree.

Given that these clean-ups fall mostly on our man, Lloyd, Mark quipped that maybe we should be building him a little shelter down there and send him out each morning with a thermos. We may not see him for several weeks.

Over morning tea, we remembered that philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Now there is a very humancentric question. We, the closest humans, may not have heard this tree fall but we are by no means the only living creatures with the capacity to hear sound. I am sure the sleeping birds, probably rats, mice, possums, lizards and smaller creatures of nature heard it and felt the impact when it fell.

As it fell, It uprooted and sent various tall ponga (tree ferns) spinning in the air, to land some distance away


17 thoughts on “Treemageddon. Again.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I recall struggling with the thought that anybody could think otherwise when I was doing Philosophy 1 at university (the only paper I ever failed!)

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        No, I think you do an injustice. Even all those years ago, to do well required the ability to marshal a cogent argument and not to be too attached to a concrete situation or personal experience. That said, I recall that out of a class of 27 of us, ONLY 4 passed and 2 of those 4 were repeating the paper. Nowadays the quality of the programme and the teaching might come under closer scrutiny with results like that.

      2. tonytomeo

        So, your difficulty was with the inability of others to understand a seemingly simple situation, such as the existence of sound, whether or not anyone is there to hear it.

      3. Abbie Jury Post author

        There is a line between science (scientific proof) and the ability to think and construct a logical argument. I do not think I ever found that line.

      4. tonytomeo

        When I was flat out failing the most basic of business law classes that was required in our GE, I wrote a HORRID term paper. It was worth half a grade in a class that I was already failing. I knew that I would fail, and just did not care. I hated the class, which seemed to me to be about how to get away with illegal activity. Rather than actually write about the assigned topic, I wrote a mean and nasty essay about how corrupt and evil attorneys are, and how corrupt the ‘system’ is. I got an ‘A’, and passed the class with a ‘C’. The professor transferred to another university, so I never saw him again. To this day, I do not know if he made a mistake, just did not care, or was impressed with my essay.

      5. Abbie Jury Post author

        I have a similar story – aghast at the end of a year of teacher training to find I had been enrolled to sit a university exam at post-grad level in the Teaching of Mathematics. I could not have been less prepared, rang my tutor in tears and was told to ‘go and do my best’. I entered that exam with precisely five facts memorised – one statistic and Dienes’ four principals of variability and I wrote for three hours on those five facts. And got a B+ pass. I had no respect for that assessment – if they could not tell that I was using my superior essay writing skills and high levels of literacy to bluff my way through an exam where I knew next to nothing about the topic, then they did not deserve my respect.

  1. Pat Webster

    I love that you noticed the absence of the tree through the presence of more sunlight.

    Losing an enormous tree like that, that dates back before the arrival of Europeans, is always painful but nonetheless it feels ok, a part of nature’s cycle. To think that the weight of epiphytes could contribute to its demise makes my head reel… this is not something I experience in Canada.

  2. Paddy Tobin

    It was fortunate that it was well away from the house and no structural damage done. That would be a far bigger clean-up operation. It’s always such a pity to see an old tree come down; so many years growth lost etc. It will continue as a feature in the garden for some time

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are psyching ourselves up to arrange for the controlled drop of a massive Abies procera glauca which would do huge damage to our house if it fell. The rest of our largest specimens are well away from the house at least.

      1. Paddy Tobin

        Time to bring in the experts. I had tree specialists in to take down four very large pines and it was mind-boggling how they could do their work with so little disturbance to the garden.

  3. Tim Dutton

    That is a very large tawa! I had a look on the New Zealand Tree Register ( to see what they had recorded for large tawa trees. Only 2 on there, one in Wellington, one near Whanganui, but neither appears to be anywhere near as large as the one you just had fall down. The Wellington tree was planted around 1900, so I’m guessing that your age estimate of pre-settler times would be right. Good job it wasn’t near the house.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh that is interesting. In our patch of tawa bush across the road, we assume that the big specimens were milled in earlier days because there are none as large. We bought that piece of land in 1994. But this piece having been in family hands since 1870, we know that nobody planted tawa so that tree and one other here must date back to the days before clear felling.

  4. Pingback: Epiphytes and ponga logs | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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