'Fan palms a threat to indigenous ecosystems'

NOT WELCOME: Forest and Bird Gisborne chairman Grant Vincent wants to raise awareness about the threat to indigenous ecosystems of the ornamental fan palm. Picture by Barry Foster

THE introduction of fan palms to the region has created significant challenges for our unique indigenous ecosystems according to Grant Vincent of Gisborne’s Forest and Bird.

Originally introduced as ornamental plants, fan palms have become ubiquitous all around the Poverty Bay flats and produce a readily available seed source.

“You can see them all along the main street and in driveways and gardens everywhere but what is not well understood is that introduced ornamental plants often become problematic for our native ecology, and this is true for fan palms and our work in Gray’s Bush,” said Mr Vincent.

Forest and Bird volunteers, including Mr Vincent, have been involved in the upkeep and preservation of Gray’s Bush in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DoC) for many years and have seen a worrying trend emerging.

Chinese fan palms are considered to be an invasive tree species and make it difficult for native plants and wildlife to thrive.

They spread easily and are havens for vermin, said Mr Vincent.

“We have had to increase our efforts to eradicate seedlings as this weed is particularly invasive.

“Fan palms if left to grow would completely change the character of Gray’s Bush unique environment,” said Mr Vincent.

Gray’s Bush, a 12 hectare scenic reserve just outside Gisborne City, contains the nationally rare combination of kahikatea and puriri, a forest type once reasonably common on the Gisborne plains.

“There’s nothing like Gray’s Bush,” he said.

Gray's Bush is an example of what the forest would've been like hundreds of years ago

“It’s an example of what the forest would’ve been like hundreds of years ago and we’re extremely lucky that it’s still exists as everything else has been cleared.”

Mr Vincent says the danger for the area is that weeds like fan palms germinate readily and can do so in either light or shade.

“Weed problems in smaller reserve areas are usually concentrated on the edges (known as the edge effect) which makes them somewhat easier to see and manage, but these fan palms germinate quickly and spread easily throughout the Reserve.

“Birds eat the small fruit and then disperse the seeds across the region.

“If these plants get up into the Gray’s Bush canopy, as they can grow quite large, it would be disastrous for the ongoing ecological stability.”

The recreational and botanical significance of Gray’s Bush was recognised as early as 1914 when the Commissioner of Crown Lands approached the then owner, Mr Charles Gray proposing a land exchange for the bush.

At this stage the bush was part of Gray’s Farm, Waiohika, which he had bought in 1877.

The proposal was eventually dropped and it was not until 1926, eight years after Mr Gray’s death, when the bush was formally reserved as Gray’s Bush Domain, having been offered to the Crown for a reserve by the trustees of the Gray Estate.

'More than 5000 people visit Gray's Bush each year'

DoC supervisor of biodiversity/recreation/historic Paul Roper said more than 5000 visitors visit Gray’s Bush each year.

“It’s a great outdoor classroom for schools and community groups and its location makes it an accessible recreation spot for physical and mental wellbeing.

“Gray’s Bush is a window into the past and an insight on what the pre-clearance forest cover of the Poverty Bay flats would have resembled.”

Forested areas are rare on the plains which have been extensively cleared and drained for pastoral farming and agriculture.

Gray’s Bush is a remnant of the tall, kahikatea (podocarp) forest which once covered much of the Gisborne Plains and contains well-preserved individual trees reaching heights of up to 40 metres.

The majority of the taller kahikatea are said to be from 400 to 500 years old

The majority of the taller kahikatea are said to be from 400 to 500 years old.

“The understory is amazing, nikau palms are proliferating, kawakawa and mahoe are all well represented and regenerating well under the canopy.

“If fan palms aren’t managed adequately they would easily crowd out the native species and ultimately change the ecology of Gray’s Bush and to have it compromised would be a travesty.”

According to diary entries kept by the volunteers of Forest and Bird Gisborne, 20 fan palm seedlings were recorded as having been extracted in 2010.

Mr Vincent reports that over the last few years volunteers have uprooted almost 1000 seedlings and unless more efforts are undertaken to address the prevalence of fan palms around the region, this trend is likely to continue.

Although it attracts high visitor numbers, most people are unaware of the threats it is under said Mr Vincent.

“Gray’s Bush can often be taken for granted.

“Because its a scenic reserve and managed by DoC, it can seem like there are no issues, but this is definitely not the case and we work very hard to preserve it’s ecological significance.

“By removing fan palm seedlings we hold the line, as it were, to maintain the special ecological character of Gray’s Bush.

“Our native indigenous ecosystems are so unique and special — you can’t go to Hawaii and see a tui or travel to Australia and see kereru or kahikatea, so it’s vital that we protect what we have,” says Mr Vincent.

To volunteer or join the Gisborne branch, contact details are available on the Forest and Bird website.

THE introduction of fan palms to the region has created significant challenges for our unique indigenous ecosystems according to Grant Vincent of Gisborne’s Forest and Bird.

Originally introduced as ornamental plants, fan palms have become ubiquitous all around the Poverty Bay flats and produce a readily available seed source.

“You can see them all along the main street and in driveways and gardens everywhere but what is not well understood is that introduced ornamental plants often become problematic for our native ecology, and this is true for fan palms and our work in Gray’s Bush,” said Mr Vincent.

Forest and Bird volunteers, including Mr Vincent, have been involved in the upkeep and preservation of Gray’s Bush in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DoC) for many years and have seen a worrying trend emerging.

Chinese fan palms are considered to be an invasive tree species and make it difficult for native plants and wildlife to thrive.

They spread easily and are havens for vermin, said Mr Vincent.

“We have had to increase our efforts to eradicate seedlings as this weed is particularly invasive.

“Fan palms if left to grow would completely change the character of Gray’s Bush unique environment,” said Mr Vincent.

Gray’s Bush, a 12 hectare scenic reserve just outside Gisborne City, contains the nationally rare combination of kahikatea and puriri, a forest type once reasonably common on the Gisborne plains.

“There’s nothing like Gray’s Bush,” he said.

Gray's Bush is an example of what the forest would've been like hundreds of years ago

“It’s an example of what the forest would’ve been like hundreds of years ago and we’re extremely lucky that it’s still exists as everything else has been cleared.”

Mr Vincent says the danger for the area is that weeds like fan palms germinate readily and can do so in either light or shade.

“Weed problems in smaller reserve areas are usually concentrated on the edges (known as the edge effect) which makes them somewhat easier to see and manage, but these fan palms germinate quickly and spread easily throughout the Reserve.

“Birds eat the small fruit and then disperse the seeds across the region.

“If these plants get up into the Gray’s Bush canopy, as they can grow quite large, it would be disastrous for the ongoing ecological stability.”

The recreational and botanical significance of Gray’s Bush was recognised as early as 1914 when the Commissioner of Crown Lands approached the then owner, Mr Charles Gray proposing a land exchange for the bush.

At this stage the bush was part of Gray’s Farm, Waiohika, which he had bought in 1877.

The proposal was eventually dropped and it was not until 1926, eight years after Mr Gray’s death, when the bush was formally reserved as Gray’s Bush Domain, having been offered to the Crown for a reserve by the trustees of the Gray Estate.

'More than 5000 people visit Gray's Bush each year'

DoC supervisor of biodiversity/recreation/historic Paul Roper said more than 5000 visitors visit Gray’s Bush each year.

“It’s a great outdoor classroom for schools and community groups and its location makes it an accessible recreation spot for physical and mental wellbeing.

“Gray’s Bush is a window into the past and an insight on what the pre-clearance forest cover of the Poverty Bay flats would have resembled.”

Forested areas are rare on the plains which have been extensively cleared and drained for pastoral farming and agriculture.

Gray’s Bush is a remnant of the tall, kahikatea (podocarp) forest which once covered much of the Gisborne Plains and contains well-preserved individual trees reaching heights of up to 40 metres.

The majority of the taller kahikatea are said to be from 400 to 500 years old

The majority of the taller kahikatea are said to be from 400 to 500 years old.

“The understory is amazing, nikau palms are proliferating, kawakawa and mahoe are all well represented and regenerating well under the canopy.

“If fan palms aren’t managed adequately they would easily crowd out the native species and ultimately change the ecology of Gray’s Bush and to have it compromised would be a travesty.”

According to diary entries kept by the volunteers of Forest and Bird Gisborne, 20 fan palm seedlings were recorded as having been extracted in 2010.

Mr Vincent reports that over the last few years volunteers have uprooted almost 1000 seedlings and unless more efforts are undertaken to address the prevalence of fan palms around the region, this trend is likely to continue.

Although it attracts high visitor numbers, most people are unaware of the threats it is under said Mr Vincent.

“Gray’s Bush can often be taken for granted.

“Because its a scenic reserve and managed by DoC, it can seem like there are no issues, but this is definitely not the case and we work very hard to preserve it’s ecological significance.

“By removing fan palm seedlings we hold the line, as it were, to maintain the special ecological character of Gray’s Bush.

“Our native indigenous ecosystems are so unique and special — you can’t go to Hawaii and see a tui or travel to Australia and see kereru or kahikatea, so it’s vital that we protect what we have,” says Mr Vincent.

To volunteer or join the Gisborne branch, contact details are available on the Forest and Bird website.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    ​​If the council does proceed with an online voting option for the 2019 election, will you likely vote online or by ballot paper?