The pine tree – it’s the quintessential Christmas icon, filling up our living rooms with its sweetly terpene scent and impressing visitors with beautifully-crafted decorations, tinsel, lights and baubles.
The Christmas tree is beloved, but it’s not all angels and festive cheer, there is a dark side to the magnificent pine.
Those afflicted with allergies know one of the problems with pines, Christmas Tree Syndrome, the runny noses, sneezing and itchy eyes caused by pine and mould spores.
Conservationists are also not impressed with the humble pine tree.
The pine problem
Pine trees grow remarkably well in New Zealand’s hospitable conditions, which is great for our forestry industry, but not so welcome for those trying to protect our native plants.
Species like pinus contorta, larch and Douglas Fir were introduced to New Zealand a century ago for timber, erosion control and firewood. But they adapted so well that when their cones open and the wind catches their seeds, they can spread quickly, littering our landscapes with a scattering of green saplings.
These alien invaders are called wilding conifers. They have become a serious problem in many parts of the country and create a nasty rash over our pristine tussock and mountain landscapes.
These fast growing conifers quickly outcompete our native species, sucking up nutrients but providing none of the advantages of our native plants, such as food for bird life and insects.
Worst of all, pine needles can form an acidic carpet which stops the regeneration of our native plant species.
What can you do?
If you are disposing of your Christmas tree – don’t dump them in the wild, because if they’re coning, the seeds can still spread. Make sure they are disposed of at the rubbish tip.
DOC is responsible for wilding conifer infestations on public conservation land but we are by no means the only ones taking action.
Some trampers and hunters carry little folding saws to cut down small wilding pines. If you do this, it’s important to cut down the whole tree stump and not leave any branches or green needles behind.
Extremely small seedlings can be pulled out by hand which is very effective as there is no risk of re-growth.
So, when you’re admiring your beautiful Christmas tree these holidays, spare a thought for their wilding relatives that are causing havoc for conservationists.