Getting super growth into those tree seedlings is simple – it can be done for a song (or two) and some nurturing conversation

The Government’s esteem for science and science-based research findings can be gauged from a press statement released by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The statement gives a progress report on a New Zealand Forest Services’ partnership with a marae-based tree-growing project and its grant of nearly $500,000 over two years through the One Billion Trees (1BT) programme.

It suggests the money has been well spent because – it transpires – the trees being grown on the marae are out-performing trees grown elsewhere.

This is instructive, pointing to how the Government can pick up the pace in bringing the ambitious One Billion Trees programme to a triumphant conclusion.

No great investment in nutrients or silvicultural expertise is required .

The secret is disclosed in the headline on the press statement:  Waiata helping native seedlings to thrive.

There is no question mark to suggest a sliver of scepticism might have sneaked into the headline writer’s considerations.

The press statement explains that a Northland marae, which has recently expanded its business, is showing that a little tender loving care in its nursery operation can go a long way to giving seedlings a head start.

A little tender loving care is to be be encouraged in any farming or horticultural enterprise, fair to say.

But in this case the care that is required for super growth involves talking to plants and singing to them.

Akerama Marae nursery support manager Thelma Horne says, her team regularly korero and waiata to the fledgling native tree seedlings in their nursery.

“Some people think we are a little crazy, but it is how we do things around here,” Thelma Horne says.

The statement proceeds to say:

 Proof it works is on full display in their nursery where prized Kauri and Totara, grown from eco-sourced forests nearby, are shooting up much faster than what is normally expected, says Thelma Horne.

“Scientists want to know why our trees are growing so successfully. Instead of taking months, we are cropping Totara seedlings out in weeks.”

Have these scientists satisfied themselves that the Totara seedlings on the marae in fact are being cropped in weeks rather than the months required for the seedlings elsewhere?

Thelma Horne says there aren’t any trade secrets to what is driving their success in the nursery.

“We have a different language to scientists. We can whakapapa direct to the rakau, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We grow our plants, like we manaaki (help) our tamariki (children) so they can grow strong. A whanau is resilient when they are with their family, and we have maintained that analogy when they are growing in the nursery.

The application of singing and soothing conversation to encourage the seedlings has been endorsed by at least one ministry bigwig.

“Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service is proud to be associated with the Akerama Marae Nursery,” says Alex Wilson, director forest development, grants and partnerships.

“The nursery project has sound foundations in mātauranga Māori and restorative planting principles.”

Arapeta Barber, contracted by Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to provide additional support and oversee the project, says the nursery has quickly become a source of huge pride in the community.

“Yes, they are naturally gifted at growing taonga tuku iho (ancient trees), but their impact is far greater,” Arapeta Barber says.

“If the ultimate goal is to support the plant out of Aotearoa back into natives as much as we can, this is how it starts.

“In the future, the call will go out to extended whanau to return home for a period, and to go eco-source inside this rohe. They will come because they believe in the Kaupapa.”


“I believe, it is a start to many generations to return and to be able to rediscover their connection to the whenua and to the rakau, and to learn more about their own whakapapa . . . that is a wonderful thing, and it all starts with learning our own waiata oriori (lullaby to regenerative seed and whanau) about planting seeds,” Arapeta Barber says.

Akerama Marae is situated in the most north-eastern part of the Kaipara catchment and has self-funded and operated a nursery for 13 years.

The New Zealand Forest Services partnered with the marae-based project last year, with a grant of nearly $500,000 over two years through the One Billion Trees (1BT) programme.

The nursery will produce an additional 80,000 native seedlings over two years to assist with local hapu planting projects. The grant has also enabled the expansion of existing nurseries facilities, additional water tanks to ensure short-term water supply, upgrade their nursery equipment, and budget for paid nursery staff.

News of the power of song in pushing up seedlings was communicated to Te Ao Maori News’ audience,  

A YouTube video allows viewers to see for themselves what must be said and sung to encourage tree growth.

The news has been reported, too, in Krishak Jagat, an agricultural newspaper in India.

8 thoughts on “Getting super growth into those tree seedlings is simple – it can be done for a song (or two) and some nurturing conversation

  1. I have heard what might possibly be a scientific explanation which is that singing or talking to plants enriches the surrounding air with CO2. Horticulturalists use CO2 enrichment to get accelerated plant growth. I would think it would have to be sustained over long periods to be effective so i have my doubts, but it is possible.


  2. Perhaps they can partner with Prince Charles, he sings to trees and has a real knack at getting donations from rich foreigners.


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