Climbing a man-made tree to see plants that live high in the forest canopy could soon be an activity on offer at Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Architect Andrew Patterson has a concept design to build a 19m high "sculptural tree" with spiral stairs and a central lift as part of the plan to further develop the gardens in Manurewa, which draw nearly a million visitors a year.

"There is nothing like this structure anywhere in the world - architecturally or as a way to present plants," said gardens manager Jack Hobbs.

The tower would show epiphytes - plants that perch on other plants and are hard to see because they grow too high in the forest canopy.


Mr Hobbs said the "epiphytum" would differ from conservatories of other botanic gardens.

It would draw people into the gardens and would be a viewing platform, a rain shelter, a classroom and a lighting tower for night events.

Mr Hobbs said the idea was only at a preliminary design stage and he could not give a construction cost.

Auckland Council's parks, recreation and sport committee chairwoman Christine Fletcher supports the concept, which will be considered during August budget planning.

Said Mr Patterson: "It's a chance to make the gardens unique and celebrate our native and flora and fauna in a way which shows world leadership in that area."