West Coast’s ‘walking tree’ in the running for NZ Tree of the Year 2024

Publish Date
Thursday, 16 May 2024, 2:23PM
Karamea's Lord of the Rings-like "Walking Tree" is a contender for Tree of the Year 2024. Photo / Gareth R Andrews

Karamea's Lord of the Rings-like "Walking Tree" is a contender for Tree of the Year 2024. Photo / Gareth R Andrews

One of the West Coast’s most recognisable shrubs has put its best foot forward as a contender in New Zealand’s annual Tree of the Year 2024.

The Karamea “Walking Tree” is one of six of the country’s most adored arboreal specimens, shortlisted as finalists in the competition.

The northern rātā took root as a local landmark due to its twin trunks, which give it the appearance of having legs that are ‘mid-step’.

As a parasitic species of plant, it’s among the fastest-growing Kiwi trees, if not the fastest-moving. The bipedal appearance came from the fact it grew and consumed a host tree.

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Despite its dynamic stance, the tree is now firmly planted in a place north of Karamea, near the cemetery.

“With an appearance like one of Tolkien’s sentient, tree-like Ents, it’s easy to see how The Walking Tree got its name,” says the entry to the contest run by The NZ Arboricultural Association.

Heath Milne, chief executive of regional tourism authority Development West Coast, says he hopes the nomination will help grow the district’s appeal with visitors.

“We encourage everyone to get out and vote, or better still visit Karamea and see it strut its stuff in person,” he says.

Standing alongside the rātā are six trees from across Aotearoa.

That Wanaka Tree is a world-famous Kiwi tree. Photo / Getty Images 

In Wellington, ‘Moko’, the centrepiece of Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush “open-air plant museum” and arboretum is in the running.

Geraldine’s entry is “Hewlings Tōtara”, a 160-year-old tree that grows between buildings on the high street.

In Mount Maunganui, the “Pitau Road Pōhutukawa” is a gnarled, 400-year-old plant that predates Captain Cook by some way.

“Freddie’s Pōhutukawa” was planted in Gisborne by NZAC air force pilot Fred Naden, ahead of World War I.

Rounding off entries is “That Wānaka Tree” a willow that is well-known as a PC screensaver, and needs no further introduction.

The annual competition, held in 2011, is run in collaboration with NZARB and Pouhere Taonga / Heritage NZ.

Tree of the Year chair Brad Cadwallader says it’s still a growing event dedicated to NZ’s largest “living legends”.

“We want people to tell us why these trees are important to them and to show us that they are the guardians of the next Tree of the Year,” he said.

A shot from US comedian John Oliver's November 2023 segment on New Zealand's Bird of the Year. 

Similar public votes and naturalist popularity competitions have courted controversy and satire recently.

A landslide win for pūteketeke in Forest and Bird’s ‘Bird of the Year 2024 led to claims of election tampering after US comedian John Oliver encouraged his 4.1 million weekly viewers to vote for the “deeply weird bird”.

We doubt any late-night talk show hosts will be dressing up as the walking tree.

Voting is open until May 31, with NZ’s Tree of the Year announced on 5 June. Vote HERE.

This article was first published by the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.

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