Monumental Metrosideros at Monserrate


Until I visited Monserrate, in Portugal, I didn't realise Metrosideros excelsa, better known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree or Pōhutukawa, grew so big. Conversely, until I heard horticulturist Kate Roud mention it recently, I didn't know most Metrosideros species are actually climbers and shrubs, not even trees.

The Park of Monserrate is a 33 hectare garden surrounding an extravagant summer house (Palacio de Monserrate) built in the mountains near Sintra, 30 km from Lisbon in Portugal. The garden includes huge specimen trees from all over the world but particularly Australia (Norfolk Island Pine, Queensland Kauri) and New Zealand, this Metrosideros.


The Monumental Trees website, says this tree is called, rather prosaically, 'New Zealand Two'. It was planted between 1750 and 1850 (that's as precise as they are will to be) and its girth in 2017 was 9 metres, its height 19.9 metres. 

There are plenty of other trees, and other plants, including 70 or so species of palm. Also some lovely use of ferns and succulents to border paths, as well, according to Richard Aitken in a talk he gave to the Friends of Ballarat Botanical Gardens last year, the first lawn in Portugal!


The garden itself was started in the late 18th century by Gerard de Visme, an English merchant who made his fortune in Brazil. The house didn't fare well during the Napoleonic and civil wars in Portugal in the early 19th century. The ruined house, and garden, became part of the 19th century Grand Tour after Lord Byron visited and wrote about it in 1809. The rest of the history you can read in various on-line site (e.g.) but Francis Cook planted the first Araucaria there in 1852, just before he started rebuilding the house (the one we see today, again in state of repair).

Cook also had a home in London, on Richmond Hill, not far from Kew Gardens, and was a close associate of the Director's of Kew, William and Joseph Hooker. In fact his garden at Monserrate was said to contain more plant species than any other in Europe, apart from Kew Gardens. 

The climate in Sintra is more temperate and favourable to exotic plants than in the UK. The Director of the Glasnevin Botanic Garden in Dublin, David Moore (brother of Charles Moore who was Director of Sydney's Botanic Garden between 1848 and 1896), marveled at 'a piece of ground a thousand times the size of the palm house at Kew wholly dedicated to the culture of exotic plants'.


There are similar homes and gardens elsewhere around Sintra, but Monserrate is for plant lovers the most interesting. That said, do visit Palacio Nacional da Pena and Quinta da Regaleira for some very impressive greenery.

While I was surprised by the Metrosideros at Monserrate it was compounded, as I said at the start, by learning a little more about the genus of 60 species. Kate Roud in her talk to the Melbourne Friends earlier this year featured the Northern Rātā (Metrosideros robusta), from the North Island and northern parts of the South Island of New Zealand. It starts as epiphyte in the branches of a forest tree then, like many figs, sends down its own roots and creates a massive hollow trunk. 

Kate mentioned other species, some remaining as vines all their life. Kate ended by encouraging us (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) to continue growing New Zealand plants, particularly ones that are likely to tolerate a dryer and warmer Melbourne. I think the Northern Rātā is one of those, but I do have a hankering for a really big Pōhutukawa.


Postscript (comment from Stuart Read, 2 October 2018): Gracias Tim - you should see pohutukawa (M.excelsa) and Northern rata (M.robusta) 'at home' - they get huge all right - like Butler Point, Doubtless Bay, Northland - absolutely monster pohutukawa on a peninsula, and Wilton's Bush at Otari Native Plant Museum, Wellington for a huge old Nn.rata. Most NZ Metrosideros spp. are climbers, e.g. M.carminea, M.fulgens, M.perforata - and many are white-flowered, not red. Intersting to me how 'red' Metro.flowers are rare in Australia (Qld., one species) yet yellow common(er). The opposite in NZ - yellow is rare, red common, but perhaps less-so than white? I've given talks on NZ plants in Australian gardens for some years - a rich topic; with a long (and very commercial) history. I'd suggest Portuguese imports post-date Captain Cook (1769)'s voyage; despite claims of mahogany ships and Portuguese explorers/shipwrecks on our coasts! What you don't mention are the Canary Islands - source of so many of those succulents and dragon trees evident at Monserrate - and their benign climate (rather like much of Oz/NZ) which allows SUCH a breadth of plant palette to survive/thrive - something much of northern Europe can only do on islands - Scilly, Guernsey, etc. Cheers. Stuart

Comments

stuart read said…
Gracias Tim - you should see pohutukawa (M.excelsa) and Northern rata (M.robusta) 'at home' - they get huge all right - like Butler Point, Doubtless Bay, Northland - absolutely monster pohutukawa on a peninsula, and Wilton's Bush at Otari Native Plant Museum, Wellington for a huge old Nn.rata. Most NZ Metrosideros spp. are climbers, e.g. M.carminea, M.fulgens, M.perforata - and many are white-flowered, not red. Intersting to me how 'red' Metro.flowers are rare in Australia (Qld., one species) yet yellow common(er). The opposite in NZ - yellow is rare, red common, but perhaps less-so than white? I've given talks on NZ plants in Australian gardens for some years - a rich topic; with a long (and very commercial) history. I'd suggest Portuguese imports post-date Captain Cook (1769)'s voyage; despite claims of mahogany ships and Portuguese explorers/shipwrecks on our coasts! What you don't mention are the Canary Islands - source of so many of those succulents and dragon trees evident at Monserrate - and their benign climate (rather like much of Oz/NZ) which allows SUCH a breadth of plant palette to survive/thrive - something much of northern Europe can only do on islands - Scilly, Guernsey, etc. Cheers. Stuart
stuart read said…
#newzealand#plants#acclimatisation#export#import#trade#nurseries#climate#metrosideros#australia#ships#maritime routes
www.gardenhistorysociety.org.au
Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks Stuart. Clearly this is a genus I know little about (apart from getting excited when I saw my first specimens over in New Zealand decades ago, and thinking I knew how to pronounce the local name...). Thanks for the additional info! Tim