3 se­crets to get­ting the best from

NZ Lifestyle Block - - In The Orchard -

A lit­tle ef­fort with the rake and a minute or two spent ty­ing them into knots or bun­dles will give you a never-end­ing sup­ply of fire­lighters for win­ter as the leaves are full of tur­pen­tine oil and eas­ily burn. This fast-grow­ing na­tive is use­ful for in­stant height in a new shel­ter belt. They’re also very hardy to salt winds and cold so they do well by the sea­side or in­land, as long as there is no set­tling snow which will freeze their mid­dles out.

How hardy are they? They grow back af­ter felling, and af­ter a for­est fire. I have seen a trunk wash up at high tide and grow into a tree on the beach. They grow in as­phalt.

They are also hard to kill which makes them great sur­vivors for na­tive af­forest­ing. When they get too tall you sim­ply chop the main stem off and they soon sprout into about four new branches, turn­ing an ugly stump into a cheer­ful new cab­bage tree.

The sharp, dense, lov­able nod­ding leaf heads catch and fil­ter the wind mak­ing ef­fec­tive low wind shel­ter, as part of a mixed na­tive hedge.

Spring flow­ers fill the orchard with a dizzy trop­i­cal scent, at­tract­ing pi­geons and bees. If the ti kouka flow­ers early, it’s go­ing to be a hot sum­mer. The best thing about the cab­bage tree is it’s ed­i­ble. They are of­ten found in groves in the Far North which are ru­moured to be tapu (sa­cred) and in the old clear­ance days, Maori log­ging crews would refuse to cut them be­cause Cordy­line aus­tralis was one of the best, most de­li­cious sources of car­bo­hy­drate known to the Maori farm­ers.

It is ba­si­cally a cold cli­mate sugar cane tree and it used to be tended in groves. You can plant large branch cut­tings which strike as eas­ily as wil­low. When the young trees are about 1.5m high, they can be dug up and the root de­tached will re­sem­ble a 60cm long, gi­ant beige car­rot. The top can be re­planted to sus­tain the grove.

You wash the root, chop it into parsnip­sized chunks and boil for at least two hours.

Have a taste and you’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised by how de­li­cious it is. Any­one who has gnawed on a hunk of sugar cane in the trop­ics will recog­nise the flavour, and the ex­pe­ri­ence is rather like hav­ing a gi­ant soft stick of rock to gnaw on – it’s very pop­u­lar with the kids on a long ru­ral hol­i­day.

The tapu rules were all about preserving the food source for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of con­sumers. There were strict rules about sea­sons of plant­ing and har­vest, and how to treat the plants, which were con­sid­ered to be alive and pos­sess­ing a per­son­al­ity of their own.

They self-seed read­ily from large old trees, and can be­come a weed in lawns. Pull them up and re­plant along a bank to pro­vide fu­ture mokop­una with some­thing for their sweet tooth. ■

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