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 The New Zealand Redwood Company



New Zealand Tree Grower February 2007
Jim Rydelius

With as much enthusiasm as ever, The New Zealand Redwood Company is continuing to establish redwood forests on its properties, with the current total area of established redwoods almost 1,100 hectares. In addition to redwoods, the company has also established a substantial area of Douglas fir forests. From now on the company will focus on establishing and growing redwood.

Pruning milestone

With the oldest of these forests now just past their fourth growing season and with the trees growing pretty much as originally anticipated, it will be only one more year until trees in the first of these forests reach pruning size. The owners and managers of the company are all looking forward to this milestone. With pruning, the forests will begin to produce a significant percentage of knot-free redwood, which commands high prices in the market place.

With no surprises so far, we continue to consider 30 years as the approximate age at which trees in New Zealand redwood forests will have achieved commercial size and be harvested.  In some areas harvest ages may be a bit less, while in others perhaps a bit more, but 30 years seems to be a good target age for planning purposes. This is particularly so if forests are established at densities of no more than about 500 trees per hectare, using clonal redwood planting stock developed from trees specifically selected for their demonstrated growth rates, form and desirable branching habits.


Clonal stock

The New Zealand Redwood Company intends to establish most of its redwood forests from this point with clonal stock. Its first few redwood forests were established with seedlings grown from New Zealand forest sourced seeds. This was done because the value of redwood in the market place is such that we did not want to wait until the tissue culture and nursery infrastructure could be developed.

Redwood clone at 16 months, Okata near Hunterville

However the infrastructure has now been developed with abundant quantities of high quality clonal stock being produced.

The developed infrastructure, in addition to producing clonal redwood planting stock is also producing genetically improved seedlings grown from seeds produced in the only redwood seed orchard in the world.  We currently have an inventory of seeds from this seed orchard in New Zealand, have seedlings from that seed growing in nurseries and will add to the inventory of these seeds as they are obtained from the orchard.  We are also producing redwood seedlings grown from California forest sourced seeds from different parts of the natural range of redwoods in California. Clonal redwood planting stock has grown particularly well in New Zealand, and this should be no surprise as clonal stock is genetically identical to the trees from which it is propagated. Since each of the redwood trees selected for propagation demonstrated superior rates of growth, desirable form and, including branch habits that contribute to value in the market place, so will they perform when propagated as clones.

The imported genetically improved seeds, when grown to produce first generation seedlings and established, will provide an opportunity to select trees to be propagated for establishing a redwood seed orchard in New Zealand.  Such an orchard will produce the seed required for growing second generation genetically improved planting stock to establish second generation genetically improved redwood forests and for establishing a new generation of improved clonal planting stock. Progress is already under way towards genetically improved redwood planting stock for use in New Zealand.

Confidence in redwoods

Although the concept of establishing redwood forests on a commercial basis had not been attempted before, redwoods were introduced into New Zealand more than 100 years ago, with many examples of redwood forest now existing.  It is the existence of these forests that gave us the initial confidence to go forward with redwood forest establishment on a commercial basis.

Trees in some of those forests are spectacular in terms of growth, form and quality while those in others are not particularly good at all. There may be a number of reasons why this is the case, but it is probable that the source of seeds used to establish those forests may be a significant factor. There is reason to believe that the source of seeds that have produced the best redwood forests in New Zealand may be an area located some 400 to 500 kilometres north of San Francisco.  Records have been located that indicate significant quantities of redwood seeds from this general area were sent to New Zealand some 70 to 80 years ago.  This time frame coincides with the ages of many of the best redwood forests in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, records do not confirm with certainty that the seeds involve in these seed consignments were used to grow the trees now found in any specific forest.

The Kuser collection

To develop a degree of certainty about the origin of various redwood forests in New Zealand, The New Zealand Redwood Company brought to New Zealand the entire collection of redwoods that comprise a provenance study titled ‘International Rangewide Provenance Test of Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens (D.Don.) Endl, most commonly known as the Kuser Collection’. Using the Kuser collection as the resource base, additional research at Waikato University will hopefully, provide a second approach towards determining which sources of redwood are best suited to New Zealand environmental conditions.  This research will develop protocols for DNA fingerprinting individual redwood trees with the hope that the these will have regional or provenance similarities. If successful, the technology under development may make it possible to identify the provenances from which all existing redwood forests in New Zealand originally came.

Growth and yield model

In addition to the production of redwood planting stock and the continuing establishment of redwood forests, The New Zealand Redwood Company has been very actively involved in the development of a redwood growth and yield model and a number of redwood pruning trials.  A redwood sawing study is also under consideration.  All of these efforts have been in close cooperation with Ensis and NZ Forestry Ltd, a consulting group with keen interest in the potential of redwood forestry.  To test the marketability of redwood timber sawn from New Zealand grown redwood trees in the established markets of the United States, we have harvested merchantable redwoods grown in New Zealand and exported the milled timber to the United States.  This effort has proved that redwood timber grown from New Zealand grown trees is acceptable in the United States market place. Customers are unable to distinguish timber produced from New Zealand grown trees as compared with timber produced from California grown trees.

The fact that timber produced from New Zealand redwood trees is accepted is gratifying, because the value of redwood is currently two to three times the value of pine timber. Although redwood timber has more value, redwood forest establishment and management costs are little more than the costs of establishing pine. More land suitable for redwoods Over the course of the last five years, we have come to realise that there is much more land in New Zealand on which redwoods can be commercially grown than can be planted by The New Zealand Redwood Company alone.  It is now understood that there is much more land in New Zealand that is suitable for redwood than exists in North America.  In addition, there is strong evidence to suggest that redwood forests, if planted on that land, would generally grow more rapidly than the redwood forests in their natural habitat of coastal northern California.

All of this, with the opportunities offered by the developing economies of China, India, Korea and elsewhere, make redwood forest a very attractive opportunity.  Given the projected growth rates of redwood, as well as the generous total area on which such redwood forests could be established, a New Zealand industry based on redwood forests that would exceed the capacity of the redwood industry in California is not an unreasonable projection. In fact, 85,000 hectares of redwood forest in New Zealand, if established at a rate of just over 7,000 hectares a year for 30 years, would be capable of sustaining an annual production of redwood timber equal to that currently produced by the California redwood forest industry.

Redwood industry in New Zealand

The New Zealand Redwood Company would prefer to be part of a redwood industry in New Zealand. The alternative is a remote business dependent on the on the redwood industry of California when harvesting and timber marketing begins. We are therefore ready to discuss prospects for growing redwood forests in New Zealand with anyone who may have an interest in doing so.

We will also do what we can to direct those interested in growing redwood forests to people with expertise in developing and managing redwood forests. We will make available to potential redwood growers any of the redwood planting stock categories we are now producing in New Zealand. This includes clonal redwood planting stock,  first generation genetically improved redwood seedlings, and redwood seedlings grown from California seeds obtained from California forests.

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Jim Rydelius is the outgoing manager of the New Zealand Redwood Company

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