It may well be the best kept secret of Manawatū. The Ian McKean Pinetum in Rangiwahia is home to the largest collection of conifer species in the southern hemisphere.

And last weekend the iconic tree collection celebrated the 60th anniversary since the first conifer was planted, with a picnic in the pinetum for volunteers and the public.

Tucked down a gully at the base of the Ruahine Ranges, the Ian McKean Pinetum includes more than 1500 conifer (cone-bearing) trees, with more than half of the 600 conifer species in the world.

McKean, who passed away in 1998, was a third generation farmer but his passion was for trees, and conifers in particular because of their hardiness to Rangiwahia's cooler climate. He planted all the trees in the pinetum from seed.

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Today, the trees are planted across 14 hectares and are protected under the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust.

"The collection is 60 years old and we are still planting trees," said Don Tantrum, who's been involved with the pinetum committee for almost 20 years.

"If you wanted to see all of these trees in the wild in their native countries, you'd have to do a hell of a lot of travelling."

A typical botanic garden may include 50 or so varieties, but this pinetum contains more than 300.

"Ian was very free with his knowledge, he just loved helping anyone who was interested in plants. We used to swap seeds and trees and you wouldn't believe his enthusiasm. There are not many people who can drool over a plant that's only 1cm out of the ground or share his excitement over a tree bearing its first cone after 20 years."

The pinetum has attracted botanic experts from around the world, namely members of the international dendrology society, which is dedicated to promoting the study of trees and shrubs. And the committee is hoping the recent creation of a large information board at the pinetum's roadside entrance and wetlands throughout the space will help to raise awareness to the public and visitors passing by.

The pinetum is open to the public all year round with more information at the Ian McKean Pinetum Facebook page.

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