Our history

Scion has been creating impact for Aotearoa, the forestry sector, and our people since 1947.

For over 75 years, we have been the country’s leading experts in forestry research, science and innovation. Our focus has evolved from research to support sustainably managed exotic plantation forests and forest product industries, to today’s broader view of the role of the forest in supporting net zero 2025.

Our evolution represents the increasing importance of forests and our commitment to our mission:

Enhancing New Zealand’s prosperity, wellbeing and environment through trees.

Kia piki te ora, te taiao me te whai rawa o Aotearoa mā te ngāherehere.

Forestry grew from here


Whakarewarewa Nursery established: Shortly after the Crown acquired land from Ngāti Hurungaterangi, Ngāti Taeotu and Ngāti Te Kahu, the Whakarewarewa Nursery was established, essentially the land upon which Scion sits today.

More than 60 exotic species were planted to determine which species grew best in New Zealand conditions. Many tree species planted were among the first large experimental forests to help guide the afforestation of New Zealand, including the first radiata pines. At the time, they were not considered a serious forest species but rather, a shelter species for the more fancied douglas-fir. It soon became apparent that radiata pine held promising commercial potential.

This pioneering work was hugely important to develop planted forests in New Zealand. It allowed a forestry industry to flourish and helped save New Zealand’s indigenous forests from logging.


5,000 hectares planted in the Whakarewarewa Forest which surrounds Scion.

View of Whakarewarewa Forest from Pohaturoa Hill 1920.


Large-scale plantings of radiata pine in the Central North Island began and continued through the 1930s and 40s. The forests grew well and the wood properties for pulping, timber framing and plywood exceeded all expectations, so greater attention turned to radiata pine.


A government-owned forest experiment station: Scientific research commenced on the present campus under the auspices of the New Zealand Forest Service.


The research station was officially named the Forest Research Institute (FRI) with 33 staff. The institute became an internationally recognised leader in plantation forestry science.

The Sirex wasp wiped out a third of all pine trees in the Central North Island in the late 1940s. Researchers worked to tackle the wasp problem, focusing on plant health, climate, soils, tree spacing in the forest and forestry management. This all-inclusive research approach attracted scientists from around the world during the 1950s. Scientists from around the world relocated to Rotorua with their families. By the end of that decade 150, staff were on-site.

Sirex wasp

Eyrewell State Forest 1952.

Scientists conducting a weedicide screening trial in the nursery.

Sandos Chemistry Laboratory.


It was commented that scientists at FRI knew radiata pine better than any team of scientists in the world had ever known a single tree species. Today, we know radiata pine from the level of DNA to its contribution to global climate change.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Walter Nash at a pine plantation.

Examining catch from pole prunings 1962.


The experimental forest in Whakarewarewa opened to the public and a network of walking tracks quickly expanded. A decade later, mountain bike pioneers began a series of cycling tracks through the planted forests. The diversity and beauty of those original forest plantings has helped Rotorua gain a reputation as a global mountain biking mecca.

A network of trails in Whakarewarewa develops.

FRI open day 1969.


An era of intensive science reform (and overall economic reform) with a reduction in government funding of research and the introduction of a ‘user-pays’ system. A new, contestable funding mechanism was introduced which impacted all research institutes.


The Forest Service ceased to exist. The FRI became part of the new Ministry of Forestry.

Ministry of Forestry Genetics Tree Improvement team – late 1980s.


The major government research providers (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Technology, Forest Research Institute and the Meteorological Service) were reorganised into 10 stand-alone Crown Research Institutes. FRI did not survive this reorganisation process intact. The bulk of the Forest and Wildlands Ecosystem staff were separated off and became part of what was eventually named Landcare Research New Zealand, while the rest became New Zealand Forest Research Institute.


As a CRI, the revised New Zealand Forest Research Institute came into being on 1 July 1992. The new CRI was strongly Rotorua-based and highly focused on plantation growing and processing, along with environmental and sustainability issues relating to commercial activity. As it was now a stand-alone company, the New Zealand Forest Research Institute needed to provide for its own corporate support and development, in an increasingly commercial environment.


Forest Research Institute rebranded to become Scion. The trading name Scion was adopted to reflect the growth of research programmes to include the development of new materials and energy from renewable resources and waste streams. A scion is a cutting from one plant, grafted onto another and is where new growth occurs. Similarly, by bringing ideas together here at Scion we are creating new opportunities for a circular biobased economy.


Ngāti Hurungaterangi, Ngāti Taeotu and Ngāti Te Kahu (Ngā Hapū e Toru) gift Scion’s new building the name Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, which means The Great House of Tuteata. The hapū also gifted the use of kōwhaiwhai patterns used in this building, which come from the wharenui of Hurungaterangi in Ngāpuna.

Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder, Scion Board chairperson Dr Helen Anderson and mana whenua representatives Veronica Butterworth and Hokimate Kahukiwa.


Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern officially opened Te Whare Nui o Tuteata accompanied by Minister of Research, Science & Innovation, Hon Dr Megan Woods and 500 guests.

Cutting the ribbon – Mana Whenua, Veronica Butterworth, Diamond Marunui (Ngati Hurungaterangi), Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Scion chief executive Julian Elder.


A kawenata (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed in July 2022 to formally establish and record the enduring partnership between Ngāti Hurungaterangi, Ngāti Taeotu, Ngāti Te Kahu and Scion.

Scion chair Dr Helen Anderson and Ngā Hapū e Toru trustee Veronica Butterworth sign the kawenata on 25 August 2022.