San Franciscans fight out of control pohutukawa

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

San Franciscans have grown to hate pohutukawa. Photo / Facebook
San Franciscans have grown to hate pohutukawa. Photo / Facebook

It's every New Zealander's favourite sign that the festive season is here: the flowering pohutukawa.

But the New Zealand Christmas tree is not bringing festive cheer to the people of San Francisco, who are heartily sick of the trees and want to get rid of them.

Thousands of pohutukawa line the streets of the Californian city, where they were imported to help spruce up a townscape with no native trees.

And for 25 years the pohutukawa proved hugely popular.

But that is rapidly changing as roots from the trees are beginning to destroy sewage pipes and crack footpaths.

San Francisco newspaper the Bay Citizen says almost 5000 pohutukawa are planted throughout the city.

Many are now not wanted by residents, who have had to fork out hundreds and even thousands of dollars to fix damage to their properties' infrastructure as a result of the trees' roots spreading.

Although many people would like the trees removed from the front of their properties, the process is a long one and the penalty for removing a pohutukawa without permission is almost $2000.

One woman, Dr Elizabeth Kantor, told the Bay Citizen how excited she had been when, in 1984, a pohutukawa was planted in front of her house.

But that small tree turned into what would ultimately be a huge nightmare for Dr Kantor.

She told the newspaper that the roots had reached her property's sewage pipes and caused blockages that had resulted in about 17 plumber callouts since 2000.

Her pohutukawa also had to be pruned regularly to stop it from damaging power lines.

This year, she decided that she wanted the tree removed at a cost of US$300 ($423) - a request that was rejected.

Dr Kantor took her case to a "tree trial" - where her plea was again rejected - and had to put in another US$300 to take her case further, tothe San Francisco Board of Appeals.

"I will never plant a street tree again," Dr Kantor told the Bay Citizen.

Meanwhile, experts have acknowledged that importing the trees was not a clever move.

The urban forestry adviser to the County of San Francisco told the newspaper: "In retrospect, it was a mistake."

- NZ Herald

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