The pear tree is the sole survivor of 185 fruit trees and grape vines planted by Rev John Butler at the time the Kerikeri Mission Station was established in 1819. As such, it is the oldest surviving exotic tree in New Zealand, and is into its third century of life.
Registered number 668 on the New Zealand Tree Register, the pear tree is a notable Kerikeri landmark and has survived the musket wars, the threat of fire and several major flood events over the past two centuries.
“The pear tree comes from good stock - literally,” says the Manager of the Kerikeri Mission Station Liz Bigwood.
“It’s likely that the tree originated from Mission chief Samuel Marsden’s Paramatta Estate in Australia and was planted as part of the need to establish food crops and orchards when Butler was establishing the Church Missionary Society mission at Kerikeri.
“Many of Marsden’s fruit trees from his Paramatta orchard were in turn sourced by no less a person that Sir Joseph Banks in 1803. Botanically speaking, our pear tree has an impressive whakapapa.”
Today, the pear tree is almost entirely hollow but still going strong, and stands opposite the Stone Store which, together with Kemp House, are Tohu Whenua and cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
“Pear trees are the longest-lived of all the fruit trees, and it’s not uncommon for elderly pear trees to hollow out. It doesn’t affect them in any way – it’s just what they do,” she says.
The pear tree is of the Williams Bon Chrétien (Williams good Christian) variety – which is no coincidence according to Liz.
“It’s the most popular European pear and the varietal name no doubt appealed to missionary sensibilities,” she says.
“Often missionaries planted things that were in the Bible like olives and figs, irrespective of whether they were suited to the soil and climate. In the case of the pear, it appears to have been the perfect marriage of both.”
Rākau o te tau / Tree of the Year Aotearoa is an opportunity to highlight our significant trees and share what makes them important. Inspired by the ‘European Tree of the Year’ it is about people telling our cultural tree stories. Everyone is invited to nominate and vote for the greatest trees in the country.
“The pear tree is a beautiful part of the Kerikeri Basin and is very accessible and viewable. For many of the thousands of visitors we get to the Kerikeri Mission Station every year seeing the pear tree is an important part of their experience here,” says Liz.
“It’s exciting that we all now have an opportunity to show how much this tree means to us by voting it New Zealand’s first-ever Tree of the Year."
To vote, follow the link.