Regan Schoultz is an NZME news service reporter based in Auckland.

Humble cabbage tree beats out WeatherWatch, Metservice and Niwa

The flowering habits of cabbage trees will now be keenly watched by weather watchers. Photo / Richard Robinson.
The flowering habits of cabbage trees will now be keenly watched by weather watchers. Photo / Richard Robinson.

A Kiwi farmer has bested some of the country's top weather experts with her pinpoint summer weather predictions - all with the help of a cabbage tree.

A Te Aroha woman, who has asked not to be named for fear she would be tagged "the cabbage tree lady", contradicted claims made by weather experts of a dry El Nino summer in Waikato.

Simply by keeping an eye on her cabbage tree, the woman was able to predict that the season - at least in her part of the Waikato - would be a "normal summer".

"I was told a long time ago that cabbage trees will flower around the beginning of October if it is going to be a dry summer. For the past three or four years in the Waikato it has been dry and our cabbage trees have flowered earlier but this year they were different, they didn't flower until the end of October and that is why I said to WeatherWatch that there wasn't going to be a drought in our area," she said.

"A normal summer for us here is getting decent rain, 20 to 40ml every couple of weeks and that is exactly what happened. Every couple of weeks we have had a decent rain come across this hill."

The woman insisted her prediction was area specific and related only to the Coromandel area and along the Kaimai ranges.

"I have friends farming in other parts of the Waikato where it has been really dry and they are only now just starting to get some rain."

Despite having a weather predictor in her backyard, the woman said she still listened to meteorologists for short-term predictions.

"I still like to watch both because WeatherWatch is quite accurate. When they say there is going to be a huge amount of rain you do shift your cows. But for local weather information in terms of long-term forecasting I will still watch the trees."

The farmer said others could also benefit by keeping an eye on a cabbage tree.

"If people are aware of it and watch it, it may just give an indication for them on what to expect in their area. It just helps you to prepare really, but it is also just luck," she said.

"If they do flower early, I would recommend that you prepare yourself for a drought, if they flower towards the end of October, predictions are that you are probably going to get a wetter summer."

The cabbage tree is a New Zealand native that can be found growing in many places around the country. It flowers white buds in October.

WeatherWatch meteorologist Philip Duncan said the woman's predictions had been "brilliant" because of how localised they were.

"All the main forecasters, WeatherWatch, Metservice and Niwa were all talking about El Nino coming in and the message was that we were heading into a very dry summer in particular eastern New Zealand but Waikato was sort of on the fringes of some of the rain-makers," he said.

"To be fair to the forecasters, that has actually come true. Waikato is very split up and there are some parts of it that are green and other parts that are not but her forecast was brilliant. The beauty of it was how localised it was and it affects quite a large chunk of the Waikato."

Mr Duncan said this was the first he had ever heard of using cabbage trees as weather predictors.

"Nature is very sensitive and it can pick up on things that we as humans may not and so I am very open minded when it comes to looking at nature to make predictions. Whether or not they are old wives' tales or actually true is something we need to look into," he said.

"I have heard of a few things like Pohutukawa trees flowering late in December but that is kind of too late. If there is some sort of early warning system we can look at in nature then I am all for it."

He recommended farmers consider planting cabbage trees for future weather predictions.

- NZ Herald

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