#6 Seacliff Magnolia Tree



Seacliff, Otago

Nominated by:


Photo Credit:

Rimu Tane

NZ Tree Register Number:

Not Currently Registered


The New Zealand Tree Register (NZTR) holds detailed information on notable trees in New Zealand.

Tucked away, in the somewhat overgrown Truby King Reserve in Seacliff, just north of Dunedin, is a small unassuming magnolia tree with an old crumbling plaque at its base. Engraved on the weather-beaten brass are the words,

“…the others too old or too ill who had not been out walking looked up dully as we entered with our cheeks pink, excited with what we had seen – the pigs the calves the doctors washing on the line the magnolia tree (the pride of the hospital) in bloom. And we had been to the gate, to the cattle stop at the gate!”

Janet Frame … Faces in the Water

These days Truby King Reserve is a peaceful woodland park, but the ruins of old buildings and stone lined paths hint at its storied history.

The reserve is set on part of the grounds of the old Seacliff Asylum, which operated from 1879 to 1970. And takes its name from Sir Frederic Truby King who was superintendent of the asylum from 1889-1923. Although most well known as the founder of the Plunket Society, Truby King also worked extensively in the field of mental health and oversaw the planting and development of the gardens at Seacliff.

As the plaque suggests, Janet Frame, one of our country’s great authors, spent time at Seacliff, both as a committed and voluntary patient in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her works give us a vivid insight into institutionalisation and treatment of mental health at that time. In her autobiography she claimed that winning the Hubert Church Memorial Award for “The lagoon” in 1952 persuaded the then superintendent of Seacliff to forbid a prefrontal lobotomy.

What this magnolia tree lacks in size, it more than makes up for in the story that it helps to tell. It reminds us that a tree doesn’t have to be the biggest or oldest of its kind to be of great significance to our country.