A singular forest

September 23, 2016

As the rain swept in on Saturday morning, I headed along the beach at Pouto Point with my brother, Alastair (whose business maintains several of O2 Landscapes’ plantings), and a friend, Michael Shepherd, in the general direction of a distinctive patch of forest that occurs within a dune hollow along this coast.

Visiting this remnant, called Pretty Bush, was one of the most profound experiences that I have had whilst looking into our natural environments – due in large part to the unusual composition of the forest canopy, which is dominated by Nestegis montana (pictured below, in the centre) over much of the forest.

With its willowy leaves and well-formed branching structure, Nestegis montana (also known as orooro and narrow-leaved maire) is one of our most elegant native trees. I had seen it on several occasions in various places within the wild, including Waipoua Forest, where it grows in the semi-open canopy of giant kauri. However, the manner in which orooro grows in almost pure groves at Pretty Bush is particular to Pouto (where stands of orooro also occur at Tapu Bush).

Due to the open nature of the forest understorey, the rough-textured, figured bark of N. montana (which is shown above) is particularly apparent amidst the lightweight forms of rohutu (Lophomyrtus obcordata) and Coprosma crassifolia and extensive carpets of ground ferns.

In parts of the forest, orooro forms a mosaic with rewarewa, tōtara, karaka and other trees typical of northern forests (with isolated specimens of kōwhai). As we worked our way through the dunes up to Pretty Bush, we regularly passed by bright orange, sprawling bushes of the increasingly rare Coprosma acerosa (pictured below, left) in flower.

The character of this place is partially formed by the sharp contrast between the dense forest canopy of Pretty Bush and the comparatively Spartan aesthetic of the adjacent dunes (as pictured below). The differing nature of these environments is not only tangible in a visual sense, but also in an ecological sense – as the shifting dunes present a potential long-term threat to the forest (a process that has already been documented at Pretty Bush’s western end, where encroachment of sand has affected the forest in recent decades).

Thankfully, the margins of the forest seem to have held out fairly well against the potentially deleterious influence of the dunes. This is mitigated considerably by the proximity of woodland and shrubland of the sand-dwelling species of kanuka (Kunzea amathicola) along the margins of the forest and nearby.