Hybrid tree wrongly sold as ‘sterile’

Friday 25 Nov 2022

'We can’t get it wrong again' - a tree touted as a potential answer to New Zealand's wilding pine problem has been being sold as something it's not.

A hybrid pine variety in huge demand has been labelled sterile and unable to spread without any evidence to support the claim. With many southern farmers needing to be able to plant income-earning, carbon-sequestering tree blocks, the confusion over the hybrid’s status has highlighted a widespread desire for the Government to let sterile trees out of the lab and into production.

The relatively new Pinus radiata x attenuata hybrid is being snapped up due to its ability to thrive in the harsh conditions of the South Island high country. 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.

Next year’s crop of the hybrid is sold out and individual seedlings, until yesterday, had been listed at $13 each - compared to 90 cents each for standard Radiata pine - at Christchurch nursery Southern Woods.

Marketing manager Rico Mannall said this week, when informed of the discrepancy by Newsroom, that it was unclear how the incorrect ‘sterile’ labelling had occurred. It had been present before he started in the role, he said, but past purchasers of the hybrid, all based in Canterbury, would now be notified and corrections made to sales materials.

The hybrid had been sold for the past three years at around 2500 trees per year, mainly for trials, Mannall said. Ngāi Tahu-owned tree seed supplier, Proseed, confirms the hybrid is not sterile. They say, however, that if a sterile tree could be made available it would be game-changer for the southern forestry industry.

“This hybrid is not sterile. Just like radiata pines, it produces serotinous cones that require high temperatures to open,” General manager Shaf van Ballekom told Newsroom. Van Bellekom says 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.

“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.”

Many say New Zealand’s legislation around gene editing - the process by which sterile trees have likely now been created ‘in the lab’ - are outdated and overly stringent.

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Source: Newsroom

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