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New Zealand Plants and their Story


However little the average New-Zealander may know about the plants of his country, few there are who cannot raise some enthusiasm regarding the "bush," as the forest is everywhere called. To old and young it is a delight—the stately trees; the birds, fearless of man; and, above all, the wealth of ferns appeal to all. But that this forest is a unique production of nature, found in no other land, is not a matter of common knowledge, though truly it has many claims to be considered a priceless possession.

According to the famous plant-geographer, Schimper, New Zealand has a rain-forest climate. That is to say, if no inhibitory conditions existed, one green mantle of trees would cover the whole land. Although this is not the case at present, it was in great part so when the early settlers arrived.

But this great forest was not all of one kind. The need of timber for house-building soon proved that various kinds of trees were more abundant in one locality than in another, and that some were wanting in one forest while plentiful elsewhere. As the trees had in many cases Maori names, the settlers soon learnt—in a rough manner, it is true— something as to the composition of the forests and their distribution. But, as some Maori names are used very loosely, accuracy was quite impossible. In this little book, therefore, although it is written for the non-botanical, the scientific names, which are definite, are used, as well as their more popular equivalents when such exist.

There are two distinct classes of New Zealand forests—viz., those consisting of many different species of trees, and those that are formed of but one kind, or nearly so. To the first category belong, with one or two exceptions, most of the lowland forests, page 26and to the latter the upland and subalpine beech forests and the swamp forests of kahikatea.

Let us consider first the ordinary mixed forests, the "bush" par excellence. These differ so considerably in their composition as really to constitute different societies, but all have much in common.