Hinewai Reserve Hugh Wilson and Storyteller and Guide Marie Haley have a public conversation in the Akaroa Mail on the wonderful kanuka tree, host to many native birds, lizards and insects and now a source of income from carbon credits!
Kanuka – Weed or Wonder? by Hugh Wilson in the Akaroa Mail
Secretive Life Hiding in Kanuka, by Marie Haley in response to Hugh Wilson’s article the week before.
Secretive Life Hiding in Kanuka Full Article here:
Like many people on Banks Peninsula, growing up I was told that kanuka was a native weed, invasive in pasture, not much use and lifeless.
So, when I was employed to find tui nests, I was incredibly surprised to find it was kanuka that tui prefer.
Tui are tricksters and while the male sits proudly and loudly on the very top of the tallest tree, the female will silently enter the nesting area from a completely different angle, skirt around in a loop and then shoot into the nesting tree from below.
It takes an incredible amount of patience and tracking ability to find their nests as they are hidden in the uppermost forks of the branches, directly under the canopy leaves.
If you stand underneath a kanuka tree you can see the branches reaching up like arms reaching for the sky, the branch splits into fingers which create a perfect cup for the tui to build their nest in.
Being directly under the canopy protects the nest from overhead hawks and birds of prey.
It does still leave them vulnerable to rats however, who can easily run through the canopy.
60% of the tui diet is invertebrates, and kanuka is great habitat for insects, with flowers for pollen collectors and stringy bark and holes to hide in.
On warm days you can observe swarms of small flying insects like a halo around the kanuka trees and sometimes you can see tui and other birds, especially pīwakawaka, the fantail, picking off insects, with a click of their beaks.
Holes or cracks in the trunk appear where old branches drop away as kanuka mature, these are wonderful nesting and hiding holes for all sorts of shy creatures.
The dark-skinned Canterbury gecko can be found in abundance in these cracks, as can the endemic Banks Peninsula tree weta, both species are endemic and the tree weta are found only in the Akaroa ecological district.
Next time you are walking through a kanuka forest have a little peak into the cracks and you might just spot a weta’s bottom sticking out of these holes.
Even better, go out at night with a torch and you will be amazed at the life that is present in these dry forest systems, when leaf-veined native slugs slip along, and spiders hang out on their webs.
Again, it is kanuka that weta prefer, with motels with the highest density of weta found in warm and dry north facing kanuka forest, one motel has a male and six females!
Tītitipounamu/rifleman also favour kanuka on Banks Peninsula, perhaps due to a loss of beech forest and mature podocarp, they also build their nests in the little cavities.
The spectacular jewelled gecko are found in the highest numbers in kanuka forest, the bright green females are less camouflaged on the monotone leaves making them easier to spot, and it really is a pleasure to see them tucked into a warm pocket, just out of the wind, basking themselves.
There are so many other reasons that kanuka is amazing, it holds 42% of the rainfall creating warm dry soil that cicadas adore for burrowing.
The root systems are deep and strong creating land stabilisation, especially in erosion prone clay soils.
Kanuka has antibacterial properties and actually cleans the soil, it is strong enough to catch rockfall and stop large boulders, and it makes great firewood.
And yes, now it might become a valuable source of income through carbon credits, honey production and tourism options.
But for me, it’s the secret life going on inside the kanuka forest that’s not often seen that I absolutely adore.
Take a closer look, and take your time, the best way to see this abundance is to take a pair of binoculars and lie down on the ground to wait for all of the creatures of the forest to show themselves to you, one by one.