The Lone Tree of Campbell Island

The only tree on Campbell Island is a Sitka spruce. All other plants on the island are adapted wind tolerant low-lying shrubs and bushes. Found in Camp Cove, the tree has been used by staff living in the meteorological station until 1958 as the only source of a christmas tree. It is said that every year they would chop the top off and lug it back to the station to celebrate the festive season.

Despite these regular set-backs, the tree has grown significantly since the 1960′s when it was first measured. A number of well-known naturalists have taken turns to record the spruce’s height including Sorensen in 1945, Godley in 1969, and Meurk from 1975 onwards. The most recent measurement in 2011 by Alex Fergus, a scientist on the 50 South Trust Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition, came in at 9.25 metres. Despite the challenging Campbell Island climate, the tree has grown 1.55 metres since it was last measured in 1995.

The tree has been given a number of informal awards and titles – it was dubbed the loneliest tree in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records – the closest of its kind being some 400 kilometres away in the Auckland Islands. It is also considered to be the most southern tree in New Zealand.

Some have called it Ranfurly’s Tree as it is said that the eccentric Lord Ranfurly, who was the governor general of New Zealand from 1897 until 1904 planted the spruce in 1907. While on an expedition to New Zealand’s outlying islands to collect bird specimens for the British Museum, Ranfurly had the thought to use the island for forestry. On his return visit he brought with him the Sitka spruce seedling and planted it in the cove, where it has since flourished.

An alternative theory about the trees origins is also floating around the internet, although I question its credibility. This website suggests that a sample taken in 1963 tells us that the tree was germinated in 1922 and so they believe it unlikely that Ranfurly himself planted the tree. If this is the case, where did this tree come from? Was it a relic left behind by those crazy enough to try to settle Campbell Island or did it by some miracle manage make it to the island on its own by hitching a ride on the boot of an explorer?

Either way, it’s a tale of survival. Of a tree that beat the odds to grow up all alone in the wild winds of Campbell Island.