Continuing a forest tradition around the world: turning of the fagus


friends trekking mt holdsworth beech forest, Wairarapa New Zealand

I'm from Tasmania: the heart-shaped island at the very bottom Australia, home of gourmet food and drink and breathtaking native flora and fauna.

More specifically Tasmania is home to Northofagus gunii the alpine deciduous beech tree. Roughly around ANZAC Day every year, the "fagus" starts to "turn". The tiny leaves change from their glossy deep green, to rosy red through rusty orange to bright yellow, before leaving the twigs bare during winter.

Why do leaves change colour? According to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service website: "Deciduousness - the seasonal losing of leaves - is brought on by a combination of weather and plant chemistry. During warmer months, chlorophyll in the leaves not only helps convert sunlight into sugar, it also gives the leaves their green colouring. But as the days shorten, chlorophyll starts to break down and another pigment called anthocyanin takes over. It is this pigment which gives autumn leaves their colour. Eventually, as the leaves cease to take up any further nutrient, they fall to the ground, returning precious minerals to the soil which will feed the next spring growth."

It's a local tradition to hike up to the snowy peaks to witness this spectacular natural phenomena. In 2013 I made a special trip with my Mum. We made some fun memories that day, which we both treasure.

I was fascinated to learn my fagus is one of the 35 species across what was the super-continent Gondwana, known as southern beeches. There are 18 species in New Guinea, New Britain and New Caledonia; three in Australia; four in New Zealand and nine in South America. The plants spread across Gondwana and evolved in isolation once the continent split up. Controversially, another theory is debated based on genetic evidence, that states species in New Zealand and New Caledonia evolved from dispersal by the oceans.

Which brings me to my next revelation. In 2015 I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Ushuia, Argentina, prior to sailing a tall ship to Antarctica (that's another story). It felt like I had flown the whole way around the world, to end up somewhere just like home. I went for a bushwalk in the Tierra del Fuego National Park to marvel at the presence of my favourite fagus trees.

Even though I live in Aotearoa New Zealand now, I still trekked up a mountain to be with the fagus on ANZAC Day. This time I shared my traditions with my husband and friends we've made since making the move in 2018.

Fagus is so meaningful to who I am, Ben had my engagement ring designed and made featuring the tri-colour leaves in green sapphire, yellow gold and rose gold. Scroll to the end to see my forest-inspired engagement ring by the incredibly talented Tasmanian jeweller Emily Snadden.

I hope you enjoy my fagus forest journey around the world!

I'm Sarah a wedding and family portrait photographer for adventurous people in the Wairarapa, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

hikers walking away from turning fagus, Tarn Shelf, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

mother and daughter selfie, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

turning fagus leaves, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

Tarn shelf lake, turning fagus, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

turning fagus, snow and pandanis, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

yellow fagus turning, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

yellow fagus with snow, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia

Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

southern beech tree, Rocky Lookout, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

selfie of friends at Rocky Lookout, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

river with beech forest, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

beech forest, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

yellow fagus leaves, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

green and yellow fagus branch, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

view from Rocky Lookout, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

fagus leaves, Mt Holdsworth, Wairarapa, New Zealand

Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

lake and overhanging southern beech tree, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

old timber bridge through southern beech forest, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

southern beech leaves, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

dirt walking pather through southern beech forest, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

path above lake in southern beech forest, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

southern beech tree trunks, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

green southern beech leaves against dark tree trunks, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

sillouette southern beech leaves, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuia, Argentina

Bonus: my fagus engagement ring by Emily Snadden Design

Northofagus gunnii engagement ring by Emily Snadden Design, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Photo by Emily Snadden