Amakiwi Forest Trust

March 2005
Amakiwi Forest Trust is a unique trust that has been established to grow trees, particularly specialist exotics and natives. The original impetus came from an American forestry enthusiast, Bob Russell, who gathered New Zealanders around him to help buy the property and then plan, manage and work it. He has since died, but his three daughters and their families are involved, along with eleven NZ families. Partners are able to contribute time and/or money towards maintenance, and a formula determines their share. Eventually when profits accrue they will be paid out according to their share at the time.

Planting began in 1988 with an emphasis on species to suit the site, and included a wide range of alternative species and some natives but preferably no pines. However, experience has shown that radiata is the best tree for some of the very exposed ridges. A number of Cyprus trials have taken place, and valuable lessons learnt. Originally the plantings were in one-species blocks, but now they are moving to interplanting species and gradually converting to a continuous cover system.

Experiments are under way with ways of establishing natives, preventing canker, and use of cover crops to shelter new ones.

The Property is about an hour north of Hamilton at Waikaretu. It is 151ha of rolling to steep clay covered hillsides with some swampy areas in valleys, 7km from the west coast and exposed to high winds at times. Rainfall is quite high in the key summer period.

The initial impetus came from the late Bob Russell, a retired town planner from Massachusetts, USA, and his wife Betty. Bob was the late 20th Century version of the American legend Johnny Appleseed, who planted trees wherever he went.

They came to New Zealand in 1986 and found it extraordinary that trees here grew almost three times as fast as in his home state. Bob asked forestry consultant Ian Barton to help them find suitable land and organise people to plant and care for the trees.

Barton contacted people that he thought would be interested and they in turn invited friends to join the scheme, which was later formalised as a Forestry Trust. The land was purchased in 1988 and the first plantings started soon after. Today there are eleven Kiwi families involved in the Trust, and three American ones Bobs three daughters and their families.

Members can put in labour, money, or both. This means that a members share in the Trust varies from year to year depending on their input. A formula is used to work out the value of everyones contributions, adjusts them for inflation, and each family ends up with a percentage share. Eventually when significant income starts coming in, those figures will be used to divide up any distribution.

Bob and Betty Russells concept was that the group should try new ideas and different species, and their early planting philosophy was anything other than radiata pine. However, that proved to be a tad unwise much of the property is exposed to strong westerly winds that devastated small trees.

Macrocarpa, eucalypts and blackwoods struggled to grow on bare paddocks and were attacked by canker, a disease caused by several fungi that can deform and kill cypress species.

As a result the higher, windier slopes were planted in radiata, and today they cover about 45% of the land and will be the first crop harvested.

Over the years there have been a number of trials in keeping with the founders give it a go philosophy, and experiments are continually being carried out to test different species and planting regimes to suit the location.


  • One member is looking at the effect of soil compaction, fertiliser and shelter on the growth of seedling kauri. The site has good summer rainfall, and kauri will grow rapidly in warm conditions if moisture is readily available. A shelter experiment is intended to see if raising the humidity around kauri will result in better growth, and it seems to be working.

  • Kauri have also planted under canopies of various species (puriri and totara) to see whether they grow better in association with a particular nurse crop.

Hardwood species

  • A number have been trialed and while nothing was outstanding they had some good results with Liriodendron, the tulip tree, in moist sites out of the wind, and reasonably good results with the European cherry.

  • The fastest growing is red alder, which was planted more as a nurse crop for the others because it grows fast and it fixes nitrogen, but is becoming more valued for its timber in the USA and could well be a good seller.


  • A Leyland clone trial has shown that Cupressus (cypress) varieties grow quite well out of the wind, with C. ovensii outperforming C. lusitanica, Leighton Green, Haggerston Grey and Green Spire. While C. lusitanica also gave reasonable results, C ovensii was easier to handle, grew straighter, and had few canker problems. Macrocarpa was originally planted on the more exposed sites but has been discarded because it is severely affected by cypress canker.

  • An experiment to see if injecting selenium solution into the tree will reduce canker. Selenium controls fungal infections in humans and animals, and might possibly do the same in trees ok, its a long shot but wouldnt it be great if it worked?

  • An extensive trial of twelve pruning treatments has been carried out on a stand of C. lusitanica and Leighton Green planted in 1995. The best results came from regimes involving heavy branch reduction, but labour costs were very high.
    Barton says: A lot of people are doing form pruning, cutting branches back rather than right off so that they still have some foliage so they are still helping the tree to grow. Pruning reduces the sail area of the tree and its less likely to blow over. It also stops branches growing too big so that when you come to prune them off they dont leave a large blemish in the timber
    We found that for success you need to prune off more than half of the foliage. You can just prune some of the branches or do what is called hedgehog pruning with motorised hedgetrimmers. However, unless you cut them back very hard about 67% the effect of slowing branch growth will last only one year. Its a waste of money and time to do any less.

Although there have been failures at Amakiwi through wind, unsuitable species and canker, these have led to more successful approaches. Where gaps opened up they planted other species underneath the remaining trees, and now there are several stands containing trees of two or three different ages. This situation lends itself to continuous cover forestry, which they are considering as a future management system.

Maintaining a continuous cover involves selective harvesting of individual trees or groups of trees rather than clear felling, and mixed age and mixed species planting. It also makes for better for biodiversity, soil and water, landscape, carbon sequestration. They now have several mixed planting trials and are also using coppicing and interplanting.

The Amakiwi experience has proved that this form of Trust ownership can work well for the establishment of a forest. The hardest phase is over, and it changed from being a paddock with trees in it into a real forest. Ferns are appearing in the undergrowth, and kahikatea and other natives are starting to regenerate now that goats, deer and possums are under control. Members are enjoying it more.

Policy for the forest is determined by a eight-person management committee, which in turn is elected by Trust beneficiaries. Although Barton is the only forester, he says there are others in the group with useful skills, including scientists, a lawyer, doctors, an arborist, a nurseryman and enough well-informed people to keep me from going off the rails.

Bob Russells son-in-law, Leo Roy (USA), says that even the absentee American members feel a strong sense of involvement through occasional visits, contact with itinerant Kiwi members, and the knowledge that Russells vision is rapidly becoming a reality.

What concerns Barton now is who will look after it in the future.

We set this up because we thought it was a good idea, and we know that our children and grandchildren are the ones who will benefit most financially, but only a few of them are currently involved, he says.

They are young and busy with jobs and families, and havent got much time to put into it. Its something for later in life, and I hope that sooner or later someone will pick up the baton.