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Hybrid tree wrongly sold as sterile

Date: 29th November 2022

A recent article in Friday Offcuts, the weekly electronic newsletter for Australasian Forest products companies gives a warning about marketing a product based on something it is not. Pinus radiata x attenuata hybrid has been labelled sterile and unable to spread without any evidence to support the claim. The article is a summary of a more extensive one on Newsroom https://www.newsroom.co.nz/pine-trees-wrongly-sold-as-sterile. It’s a good, short read.

Pinus attenuata seedlings

Stocks are being snapped up in NZ due to the hybrids ability to thrive in the harsh conditions of the South Island high country. It is popular with farmers for shelter belts due to its hardiness and snow resistance. It is believed to have a lower spreading risk than many commercial forestry trees such as Douglas Fir and Pinus radiata, but is not sterile, according to government scientists and seed suppliers.

It is unclear how the incorrect ‘sterile’ labelling had occurred… Proseed a tree seed supplier of the hybrid has confirmed that it is not sterile and that just like radiata pines, it produces serotinous cones that require high temperatures to open. The hybrid is classed in the same category as radiata pine when wilding spread risks are assessed. Proseed had not seen any spread so far, however, at high country planting sites.

Field trials of the Pinus radiata x P. attenuata hybrids were established by Scion and Proseed, in the late 1990s. These showed it to be tolerant of cold and dry conditions and to have good resistance to snow, according to a Scion publication. No reference is made in Scion’s reports to the tree being sterile or to any detailed assessment of its potential to spread.

There is general agreement with the statement from Proseed’s General Manager Shaf van Ballekom that “sterile trees would be a great solution to help solve issues of wilding pine, but we understand the only possible avenue to undertake this for our current suite of plantation species would be through genetic modification technology. This is currently prohibited in New Zealand.”

However, we need to be sure that trees are what they say they are before they are widely planted. The Newsroom report quotes Phil Murray from the Central Otago Wilding Group – “We are marching flat out into forestry willy-nilly. We are expecting a vast improvement with the attenuata hybrid, but we don’t know yet. They take 10 to 12 years before they start coning so you don’t know until after 10 or 12 years whether they will spread. We can’t get it wrong again.

Posted in: News