16 Jun 2017

Popular Poplars

From Country Life, 9:45 pm on 16 June 2017

Former forester Tim Forde believes the humble poplar is one of the most underrated trees in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

For 30 years, Forde earned his money from pine trees.

But ask the former forestry consultant about them today and it's clear his head has been turned.

"The pine tree is just a bland, green tree you can extract timber from."

He's comparing it to the humble poplar.

"They (pines) just don't seem to have the beauty in the colours of the leaf. The timber is quite bland too where as poplar timber can be quite attractive. The whistling of the wind in the poplar leaves is different to the whistling in pine needles. It's a friendly noise."

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

But the praise from this self-confessed friend-of-the-poplar doesn't end there.

"They would be one of the most underrated trees we have in New Zealand.

"We've got this fantastic tree out there now that has been maligned for so long that we need to put in the limelight."

Eight years ago, Tim bought a 210-hectare farm near Elsthorpe in Hawkes Bay. It came with more than 2,000 mature poplar trees.

So Tim has set about extracting as much value as he can from the trees and is encouraging others to do the same.

He says many of the 45 to 50 year old poplars on his farm are worth between $1000 to $1200 each in timber value.

"You add that up. It's right up there amongst the top pine or the top other introduced species of trees into New Zealand."

Tim and a business partner use a portable mill on the farm.

They turn poplar into conventional fence battens, battens for deer fencing and yarding rails.

"If you want a batten that's going to last a lot longer and be stronger... poplar. Poplar's got five times more strength than conventional pine."

Tim supplies a local craftsman who uses poplar to make polo and croquet mallets. The timber is used for truck decking, furniture making, toys and internal panelling for offices.

"There's a huge resource out there on the Hawkes Bay countryside, in fact, it's throughout the North Island, of these big old trees and everyone is saying I'm not going to plant another one because what do you do with the big old one I've got now, what a mess it makes, how ugly they get. So we're hoping to show the way that there is a future ... getting in a portable sawmill and extracting the best out of the trees.

"They are the true farm forestry tree, I believe."

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