Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the fun parts of the festive season, but choosing the tree can also be an enjoyable family outing in December.
And if you are buying your tree in the north of New Zealand, it will also be an environmentally friendly Yuletide act.
This year, a local conservation group has decided to sell more than 400 pines that are growing wild along with rogue Japanese cedars which are threatening a local forest.
The group hopes that trees will sell to both locals and holidaymakers looking for a Christmas tree for their homes and seaside houses in the Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand.
Department of Conservation spokesman, Dan O’Halloran, says the trees that are being sold are all weeds, self-sown from plantations cut about five years ago.
“They threaten the native regeneration [of] an area right in the heart of the Puketi Omahuta Forest, once logged for kauri,” Mr. O’Halloran says.
“After attempts at farming, the area was planted in pine trees and became known as Murray’s Pines. And when logging was completed in the late 1990’s, the area was left to regenerate.
“It has now become a home to an amazing biodiversity of plants and creatures that live in the Puketi Omahuta,” Mr. O’Halloran says.
“Once these wilding pines are removed, the thickness of the native regeneration should prevent the growth of further pine seedlings.”
According to a Department of Conservation strategy paper on wilding pines, the name given to pine tree species when they spring up uninvited, more than 210,000 hectares of land administered by the New Zealand conservation agency are threatened by this type of pine tree.
A Californian native, Pinus radiata flourishes from coastal areas to high altitudes and needs only 600 millimeters of rain a year, which means it can grow almost anywhere in New Zealand. This makes Pinus radiata both a stalwart of the local forestry industry and, when it’s not wanted, a nuisance.
Wilding pines are characterized by their ability to disperse, and the vigor of their growth. They can produce cones at between eight and thirteen years of age, and produce vast quantities of seed that can be dispersed for distances of more than 10 kilometers.
Those who decide to buy the Bay of Islands’ wilding pines or cedars are adhering to a century’s old tradition. Germany, it is believed, started the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians brought trees into their homes, according to the History Channel’s website. The first decorations started, the website says, when Martin Luther, the 16thcentury Protestant reformer, added lighted candles to a tree to imitate the night sky.
The New Zealand conservationists’ Christmas tree sales will only make a small dent in the wilding pine problem but around the country, the Department of Conservation is making a major assault on the weed problem. To help, the New Zealand government has allocated a $718,000 a year increase in funding specifically for the task.
In the Bay of Islands, the Christmas trees are being sold as a fundraiser to support local community groups.