The Gully Project Day 3 - Tree sculpture

This photo, taken on Day 3 of the Gully Project, is not really about plant identification, but more about sheer enjoyment of the aesthetic of the forest. The vines entwined around the base of a rewarewa tree, along with moss-covered stones, has a sculptural quality to it (at least in my eyes). This rewarewa is particularly special because it is one of a pair that stand about halfway down the spur, marking a sort of gateway into the gully. It is reminiscent of the red torii gates that mark the entrance to Japanese shrines, symbolising the transition from the mundane everyday world into the sacred (see also Discovering our own sacred groves).

The rewarewa (Knightia excelsa), also known as New Zealand honeysuckle, is a tree growing up to 30 m high. The flowers of the rewarewa are quite showy as far as native trees go. They are dark red, with attractively coiled petals and long styles (the stalky bit that holds the pollen at the end, a bit like a matchstick). Its flowers are very popular with tui, bellbirds, silvereyes and other nectar-feeding birds, and also make very nice honey.

In our gully forest, the rewarewa tree has become the canopy tree by default - originally the canopy would have been made up of totara, along with other podocarp species such as matai, rimu and miro - and probably also kahikatea. But like other lowland forest in the Manawatu, this gully would likely have been burnt out by the fires that destroyed all but small fragments of forest across the region. Because of its inaccessibility for farming, it was allowed to regenerate and the forest - although secondary - is still fairly mature (see photo below). One day the original canopy species may take their place towering over the forest, but this is likely to be a century or more into the future.

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