News | 22 May 2024
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Ancient rimu at Ōtari-Wilton's Bush finalist for Tree of the Year

Moko, the celebrated grandmother of Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush, has presided over the land for more than 800 years, a guardian for the largest remaining forest remnant in Wellington city and the only public botanic garden dedicated to native plants in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Image by Godfrey Toft.
Image by Godfrey Toft.

Loved in Pōneke and across the country, Moko is a finalist for Tree of the Year NZ, a competition run by the New Zealand Arboricultural Association, which asks New Zealanders to select their favourite tree from a shortlist of six trees around the country. 

Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush Manager Tim Park explains that Moko is a huge attraction for people, with visitors flocking to see what is understood to be the oldest tree in the capital. 

“It is impossible not to feel humbled when you are in the presence of Moko. People come to see her all the time, some for the first time or often on their daily walks! She is one of the few trees in Pōneke which has supported huia in her branches and had her roots trampled by moa.”

Moko was gifted its te reo Māori name by mana whenua in 2021, honouring the majestic rimu’s (Dacrydium cupressinum) towering presence in the area and the significance of the land itself, which is a place for traditional food harvesting for iwi, Te Atiawa and Ngāti Tama. 

Image of rimu in Ōtari-Wilton's Bush credit Phil Parnell
Image by Phil Parnell.

The history of the formal reserve dates back to the 1800s, when farmer Job Wilton fenced off seven hectares of indigenous forest for protection. 

The reserve was later formalised in the 1920s as an 'open-air plant museum', and today it's more than 100 hectares of forest and native botanic gardens hold around 1,200 native plant species from across Aotearoa. 

Even back then, Moko was already several hundred years old – limbs draped in an array of green-grey mosses, ferns and lichens, and her branches playing host to resting kererū, tūī and korimako. 

In the 1970s, plans to build a road through the land were stymied by the local community, led by architect and environmentalist Robert Fantl, who later set up a bequest to preserve the tree. 

To ensure visitors will be able to enjoy Moko, Tim says that the team at Ōtari-Wilton's Bush have upgraded the pathway to make it easier to get there.

"In recent years we have completed the platform and fencing to protect Moko with the support of the Ōtari-Wilton Bush Trust. We have also rerouted the to track to see her to make it easier to visit. The route is now much less steep and has significantly less steps!”

Voting for Tree of the Year is open until 31 May with the winning tree announced 5 June (NZ Arbor Day). Vote now through their website.