The re-emergence of indigenous forest in an urban environment, Christchurch, New Zealand

Glenn H. Stewart, Maria E. Ignatieva, Colin D. Meurk, Richard D. Earl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Christchurch, the second largest city in New Zealand is a planned city on a coastal plain on the east coast of the South Island. The birth of the city and the subsequent century of development was characterised by colonial values and tree and garden planting with familiar European species along with those from Australia, North America, and eventually all other continents. The image of an "English garden city" with classical parks of oaks and willow-lined rivers became the accepted norm and the way in which the city has been promoted to potential tourists. Gardening is one of the top two recreational activities and exotic species greatly outnumber native species in the flora and in gardens. This has had serious consequences for the highly fragmented and degraded indigenous vegetation and its co-adapted wildlife. A few hardy indigenous species continued to regenerate through this period, but since the 1970s, there has been a progressive change of attitude and interest in reclaiming the natural heritage of the city, manifest in widespread private and public planting of indigenous species and active habitat restoration. In this article we examine the indigenous and exotic shrub and tree components of the Christchurch flora as planted street trees, in domestic gardens, and in parks. We also present data on shrub and tree regeneration in parks and domestic gardens in the city. Indications are that the more sensitive, less intrusive management of urban environments, combined with the greater density of indigenous seed sources, has allowed regeneration of a wide range of indigenous species across a broad spectrum of habitats - from neglected gardens to pavement cracks to exotic plantations. This is despite the competition from the prodigious seed banks and density of exotic trees, shrubs, and ground covers and albeit minimal impacts of introduced browsing and seed eating mammals. If the present trends continue through appropriate management and facilitation, these tentative signs of native forest regeneration should eventually proliferate into a sustainable mixed origin urban forest that resurrects and preserves the natural character of the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-158
Number of pages10
JournalUrban Forestry and Urban Greening
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


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