Beech forest dominates the Routeburn Track up to the bushline. Three species of beech trees Red, Silver and Mountain are encountered along the track, the species mix depending on factors like altitude, soil depth and fertility. Red Beech is evident at lower altitudes in the Route Burn valley, especially on deeper soils and warm frost free sites. Silver beech is found in the wetter locations; it is most common below bushline on the Hollyford faces of the Routeburn Track. Mountain beech is dispersed throughout but predominates on colder sites, such as Routeburn Falls and Lake Mackenzie.
In places such as 'The Orchard' between Lake Mackenzie and Earland Falls, mountain ribbonwood is a distinctive tree. It has large pale green leaves and prolific large white flowers. Prickly shield fern often grows underneath as a thick forest floor cover. Elsewhere, the beech forest subcanopy consists of a wide variety of smaller broadleaf trees such as marbleleaf, pepperwood, fuschia, and wineberry. The large trees have their trunks and branches clothed in mosses, lichens, climbing vines and a wide range of epiphytic plants.
Red Beech / Tawhai Raunui / Fuscospora fusca
A evergreen tree growing to 35m Tall. The leaves are 2-4cm long and 1.5-3cm wide. The leaf edge is toothed. The red beech’s wood is the most durable of the NZ Beeches. Often used as flooring. Best seen on the Routeburn Nature Walk. On the side of some red beech trees you may see Burls. These Burls are highly prized by wood turners. The grain of the wood here is generally twisted, contorted and deformed producing what's called a “figure”. These Burls grow when the tree has been under stress, usually from injury, virus or fungus.
Silver Beech / Tawhai / Lophozonia menziesii
Bark is whitish in colour and grows up to 30m tall. Trunk up to 2m in diameter. Leaves are 6-15mm wide long and 5-15mm wide, with rounded teeth. The wood is less dense than other beech trees, therefore more easily worked, but less durable. Used for furniture, flooring and excellent for carving.
Mountain Beech / Tawhai Rauriki / Fuscospora cliffortiodes
The smallest of the NZ Beech trees. Growing up to 20m but near the treeline no more than 2m. Leaves are 10-15cm long and appear pointed. Flowering from November to January and fruiting from Febuary to April.
Tree Fuchsia / Kotukutuku / Fuchsia excorticate
Easily recognised by the appearance of its bark, which peels spontaneously, hanging in strips to show a pale underneath, Grows to 15m high. Possums are known to browse individual trees until there are no more leaves at which point the tree then dies. The small dark purple berry, known by the Maori as Konini is sweet and juicy, used by early settlers in jams and puddings. The timber was called “Bucket of Water” wood, as it is difficult to burn.
Pepperwood / Horopito / Pseudowintera colorata
Mountain Horopito is an evergreen shrub or small tree (1-2.5m). Commonly called Pepperwood or Peppertree as its leaves have a hot peppery taste. Used for many medicinal purposes including aches and pains so known as the “Bushmans Painkiller”.
Lancewood / Horoeka / Pseudopanax crassifolius
Grows up to 15m with a 50cm trunk. The young tree stems were used as spears, while the midribs of the leaves which are strong and supple were used as Boot laces. Hence known as the “Bushmans Bootlace”.
Ribbonwood / Manatu / Plagianthus regius
Largest of NZ’s deciduous trees, growing to 17m high. Flowers in spring and its male and female flowers usually grow on separate trees. Seen along the bush edge at Routeburn Flats and near Lake McKenzie Hut.
Celery Pine / Mountain Toatoa / Phyllocladus alpinus
Ranges in size from a small shrub up to 9 metres tall. The common name “Celery Pine” refers to the fernlike leaves which look like celery leaves. The bark and leaves have been used in herbal medicine to help with liver disorders. The young twigs which are very tough were used for fish hooks.
Wineberry / Makomako / Aristotelia serrate
A small fast growing deciduous tree, up to 10m tall and 30cm trunk diameter. The name says it all. The berries were used to make wine. Maoris boiled the leaves and used to help burns and infected wounds. Early settlers also burnt the shoots changing the wood to charcoal, which was used in the production of gunpowder.
Marbleleaf / Putaputaweta / Carpodetus serratus
The Marbleleaf is a small evergreen tree growing up to 10m with a slender trunk of 30cm. The wood which is strong and elastic was used for axe and tool handles. Freshly cut timber is so sappy and hard to burn, that it was called “bucket of water tree”. The Maori name Putaputaweta means “many wetas” and refers to wetas living in the holes left by Puriri moth larvae.