Seeing Red

Visitors to the islands on Lake Wanaka will be seeing red in the coming years, as they will be ablaze with rata flowers, thanks to Project Crimson and volunteers from the local community.

Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and Central Otago Lakes Forest & Bird members planted 75 Southern Rata trees on Mou Waho island last weekend. The rata trees were purchased from a local nursery with a grant from Project Crimson.
“The Southern Rata planting program was first established on Te Peka Karara, one of the island homes of buff weka.” said DOC spokesperson Flo Gaud. “With a 60% survival rate the program was extended to Mou Waho 4 years ago with over 300 trees now planted.”
Already renowned is for its showy display from mature Southern Rata trees growing around the shorelines, this year’s planting day on Mou Waho focussed above the main beach. The trees were grown at Nook Nursery near Lake Hawea from cuttings taken from the island some years earlier.
Later in the day volunteers were treated to a BBQ and an entertaining guided walk with Chris Riley of Eco Wanaka, who also provided transport to the island for the day. 
“Everyone worked so well together to pull off an enjoyable and worthwhile day – let’s hope that we get a 100% strike rate and that in a little while Mou Waho is a blaze of crimson!” summed up volunteer Bruce Jefferies.
The brilliant red flowers of rata appear in profusion from November to January, flowering well once every few years. Belonging in the myrtle family of trees, there are two main types of tree rata – northern and southern. Growing to a height up to 15 metres, the Southern Rata is found throughout New Zealand from sea level to 760 metres, although it is rare in the North Island. 
Project Crimson is a charitable trust sponsored by Meridian Energy in partnership with the Department of Conservation and the Mazda Foundation. Its vision is to "To enable pohutukawa and rata to flourish again in their natural habitat as icons in the hearts and minds of all New Zealanders."
The public are encouraged to grow and plant rata as it is rewarding if the time is taken to plan where to plant trees.  Rata grow very large so it is important to chose a suitable place for planting. The best time to plant is in autumn and early winter when the ground is still warm and there is good rainfall. Possums show a strong preference for rata, which cannot tolerate browsing.  Mature trees can be killed in three years with regular browsing.
The Project Crimson Trust works with schools, private landholders, community groups and councils to plant and care for pohutukawa and rata throughout New Zealand. 
The public are invited to apply to the annual Project Crimson funding round for funding or trees to help support their project.  The funding round closes on the 1st of March each year.  Please see the Project Crimson website for more information.