Featured in Capital #86. Subscribe to get the real thing here.
Nicknamed “Woody,” it’s fitting Jarrod Wood spends his weekends as a tree.
Camouflaged in fake leaves, flowers, and fairy lights, Jarrod is Cuba Street’s resident performing tree. You’ve probably seen him playing one of his many flutes or a saxophone, delighting (and often surprising) onlookers with his energetic performances and colourful costume.
But it’s only recently that Woody became Tree.
Back in New Zealand after living overseas, and grounded by the pandemic, the musician was filling time watching prank videos on YouTube. He came across tree prank artists – performers scaring the public dressed as highly convincing trees – and was inspired. After a series of lockdowns, Jarrod thought Wellington needed some light relief. So in June 2021 he hand-made his first costume, and Tree was born.
In the 18 months or so since Jarrod conceived his alter ego, Tree has become an enigma of the capital. Often standing in the city’s flowerbeds or alongside actual trees, it’s fair to say that Jarrod leans into the mystery – but in a way that ensures fun, not fear, for his audiences.
“The responses are 99% wonderment and joy, but there are a few people who just can’t get their head around it.”
It’s not just Tree’s costume that surprises people, but also his musical talents. Armed with a saxophone or Indian flute, Tree plays everything from traditional jazz to Celine Dion, adjusting his repertoire to the mood of his audience, and often taking requests.
Born in South Africa, Jarrod moved to the Hutt Valley with his family as a teen, and thinks of Wellington as home. He first started performing when he joined the Royal New Zealand Navy Band in the 80s. He has spent 36 years as a full-time musician, in roles ranging from high school music teacher to saxophone-playing DJ, and studying everything from classical to jazz, and Indian classical and Chinese folk music. Before the pandemic, he spent 14 years in India, working as a luxury-hotel musician and DJ, and performing for Bollywood movie soundtracks.
Back in his hometown, Jarrod’s days look rather different now.
Usually performing at weekends, he practices yoga in the mornings, before a “healthy and large breakfast and an even larger cup of coffee”. Heading into the city to perform, he carries Tree’s costume in a sack on the bus, feeling the need to “reassure the driver it’s not a dead body”. Once he’s in costume, it’s showtime.
Tree doesn’t break – even to cross roads, or to say hello to curious children. He often attracts a large crowd, and loves interacting with people in cars and diners in restaurants and cafes along Cuba Street.
Realising his goal of bringing joy to Wellingtonians is what keeps Tree coming back every weekend.
“To see the joy on their faces and to see the positive effect it has on people has been overwhelmingly heart-touching.”
Despite some challenges – including his donation box being stolen, and occasional harassment – Jarrod is committed to being the magical, joyful Tree.
“Being Tree has been my most important performance. It is so helpful and meaningful to so many people on a daily basis in the city where I grew up performing. It’s a real honour for me to be able to provide this for the people of Wellington.”