Black beech is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful trees, the dusty-green canopy reaching out in picturesque shapes along the rocky coast. It is a lowland species but with increasing altitude it gradually changes form into a tough small tree called mountain beech. Black beech has small oval leaves and grows well on headlands.
Black beech is named for its black trunk that is caused by a community of several different fungi that form a thick covering over the bark. The fungi grow on the sugar secreted by scale insects underneath that suck juices from the food conducting tissue (phloem) in the trunk. You can see droplets of sugar on thin white filaments which are part of the insect. It is this sugar that is termed ‘honeydew’, a major food for nectar feeding birds like bellbird, but also eaten by honey bees and converted to a rich dark honey.
Old black beech trees have a buttressed base, but most of the trees along the track are young. You will see fast-growing young trees growing with the kānuka. Black beech produces a hard durable timber used in fencing, housing and furniture. At Bark Bay, black beech bark was removed from milled logs, ground up and used to tan fishing nets in Wellington and leather in Nelson.