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The Cultivation of New Zealand Plants

Chapter II. — Procuring the Plants

Chapter II.
Procuring the Plants.

At one time those desirous of growing New Zealand plants had to procure them from their wild habitats. There is no longer any need to do this, except in the case of newly-discovered or very rare species, for most nursery-gardens stock a good many, and in some establishments they are made a speciality. Certain garden forms must perforce be procured from nurseries, for they cannot be collected as wild plants. Such, for instance, are the purple-leaved cabbage-tree, many forms of Phormium tenax, the purple-leaved fuchsia, variegated pittosporums, the bronze-leaved and variegated rangiora, Veronica Barkeri, * V. Lewisii, V. logamioides, V. Matthewsii, Rubus Barkeri, and the crimson and double manukas. Then there are species of local distribution which even indefatigable page 13collectors may never see, e.g., Celmisia Rutlandi, Geum divergens, Myosotis albosericea, Ourisia modesta, Pittosporum Dallii, Swainsona novae-zealandiae, Veronica quadrifaria, and species peculiar to the various outlying islands.

No matter how easily and cheaply the plants can be acquired, there will always be many desirous of procuring them first-hand, nor can the gaps in an extensive collection be filled up in any other way. Indeed, one of the attractions towards the growing of our plants is the collecting. And without doubt, plant-hunting is one of the finest, most exciting, and healthy sports in the world. It brings the collector into the presence of Nature on the sea-shore, with its cliffs, dunes, salt-meadows, and wind-swept shrubs, and in the noble forests, with their giant trees and wealth of ferns. The broad, shingly river-beds, the brown tussock-grasslands, both yield their spoil. Best of all, there are the alpine heights, where, in all kinds of situations, even the most bleak and rugged, there is a rich harvest to be reaped. And, later, when the plants, wild no longer, grace the garden how many happy memories do they call forth of delightful exercise and scenes of rare beauty.

The only weapons of the plant-hunter will be a large bag, one or two small tins, and a digging implement. Certainly the ideal tool for the purpose was the old-fashioned shingling-hammer with the head beaten out into a short pick, but no longer are shingling hammers procurable; however a good substitute is a similar tool now used in orchards. Also, an ice-axe is admirable, and it is likewise useful for the climber.

In digging up the plants, care must be taken to preserve sufficient roots. In nearly all cases quite small specimens are the best. Young trees and shrubs should page 14be taken from the outskirts of the forest, or from some open place within; so, too, with plants of shrubland and scrubs. Mat-plants, e.g., species of Raoulia, should have small pieces taken from the margin, never from the centre. When it is desired to procure any special plant, and there is no certainty which its seedlings are, then, if it be one of the kind stated further on which can be raised from cuttings, only take such. Or if some shrub seems different from what is known to be its usual form, cuttings should be secured.

There is not the slightest need to take up a sod of earth with any plant, unless it is too small, or too much mixed with others, to be separated without damage. To carry great chunks of earth is hard, and quite unnecessary work. Rather take away all the soil, and certainly remove it before packing, or planting. The earth does no good if the plants are to be properly packed; while, in the garden, the dense sod in which the plant is fixed will not amalgamate with the garden soil. Very small plants should be put into the tins, otherwise they may easily be overlooked in the general mixture contained in the collecting-bag.

Before packing into the box, or bag, in which the plants are to travel to their destination, they must be prepared for the journey. This consists in wrapping rather wet, but not sopping, sphagnum-moss round the roots of the larger specimens. As for the smaller, several may be taken together for mossing. Fasten on the moss with string, or with strands of New Zealand flax. Tie such mossed plants into bundles convenient for packing, keeping the roots together. Also lightly tie the stems, and so hinder them from breaking and reduce their bulk. Cuttings must be mossed at their cut ends. The very small plants are best put back, along with the moist sphagnum, into page 15the tin. Should there be no sphagnum available, the most sponge-like moss of the locality may be used; at a pinch damp grass will serve.

Plants mossed with sphagnum, as just described, will remain in excellent condition for an astonishingly long time. If in the field for long, and the plants cannot be sent away, moss them and place the bundles in a shady spot. Plants treated as described before are readily sent by post in wooden, tin, or cardboard boxes, or in stout bags (e.g., sugar-bags). The moss in such a case must never be too wet. Always send the parcel by express transit service. Small collections can be dispatched by sample-post.

The plants after being brought home should be dealt with as soon as possible. First of all, the cuttings must be put in the place where they are intended to strike. Next, the plants should be planted in boxes, or pots, in soil such as described in the next chapter, but containing a larger proportion of sand, or they may be planted in a nursery-bed in some shady part, of the garden, where the soil is open, and where they can be readily watered. Or, they may be put into pure sand until they are well rooted. The boxes and pots should be placed in a cool greenhouse, a cold frame, or a plant protector, and deeply plunged in sand. If it is seen, on reaching home, that any plants or cuttings seem faded, it is well to place them in water till they recover. In some cases, and for some species, it may be right to plant them where they are to remain permanently. In such a case pour water into the hole made for the plant, let it almost drain away, then insert the plant, spread out its roots, press the soil firmly round them, and fill up the hole, pressing the soil down. Finally, place a flower-pot of suitable size over the plant to shade it. By following the above procedure, or by using boxes or pots for the page 16new plants, such may be successfully dealt with even during the hottest, driest period of the year. Failure usually means carelessness. The plants must he looked at daily at first, and watered if the soil does not seem moist.

Finally, the plants must be labelled with not only the name of the species, if that can be ascertained, but with a brief indication of the locality from which it came. Labels may be made of totara, roofing-iron, or zinc. Before writing on them they must be smeared on the side for writing with thick white paint, the particulars to be written with a soft black-lead pencil. Such writing will remain legible for years. The same label can be used for the plant when put into its permanent position, by making a hole at one end, passing through this a stout piece of wire about a foot long, so that there is a short and a long portion, and twisting the former round the latter. The hole ready for the wire may be made, if desired, before the painting and writing.

* Each of these veronicas has come directly, by means of cuttings, from one original individual, which was either a collected wild plant or of garden origin. Hence they never vary, and are, apparently, most distinct species.