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Stride of New Zealand: Ancient ‘walking tree’ wins tree of the year award | Trees and forests

A lone rātā that appears to stride across the landscape has taken gold in New Zealand’s tree of the year competition.

The New Zealand Arboricultural Association, which runs the competition to celebrate New Zealand trees, said the “extraordinary” northern rātā had earned the name “The Walking Tree” due to its resemblance to one of the sentient Ents with JRR Tolkien’s tree form.

The 32-meter-tall tree, which grows near Karamea on the west coast of the South Island, “captivated the hearts and imaginations of New Zealanders with its unique appearance and fascinating life story,” the association said.

The tree was the clear winner in the third annual competition, taking 42% of the total vote and beating other well-known favorites, including the country’s most photographed tree – a willow that emerges from Lake Wānaka and has become so recognizable that it won its own hashtag on social media: #thatwanakatree.

The northern rātā is one of the tallest flowering trees in New Zealand.. It begins its life as an epiphyte, attached to another host tree. Eventually, its roots reach the ground and envelop the original host. The species can live 1,000 years. It is not clear how old the Walking Tree is, but its existence was known as early as 1875.

‘The Walking Tree’ grows near Karamea, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Photography: Gareth Andrews

Karamea local Pete Curry said his family cleared the land of trees when they arrived in the region in 1875. “The land was dense brush and my great-grandfather and his brothers cleared it for farming,” Curry told The newspaper. Christchurch Press.

But they left the Walking Tree standing.

“They must have thought the tree was unique because they didn’t leave anything else. In those days they cut and burned everything.”

Association president Richie Hill said the Walking Tree was an excellent example of some of New Zealand’s most notable trees.

“This award recognizes the important role that trees play within our communities, not only enhancing our local environments but also providing a sense of place for past, present and future generations.”

New Zealand’s most photographed tree: a willow emerging from Lake Wānaka. Photograph: Pachanatt Ounpitipong/Getty Images

West Coast Development chief executive Heath Milne said the region, largely made up of conservation land, is broke when it comes to trees.

“But there is one tree that stands out one branch above the rest: the walking tree of Karamea.”

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