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New Zealand Plants and their Story


That the plants of New Zealand afford rich material of a most varied kind for nature-study in our schools should be fairly manifest to readers of the previous chapters. Many facts, of course, can be best learnt in the field; but most of the centres of population are far from the virgin vegetation, while the plants of the neighbourhood will generally be interlopers from abroad. In order, therefore, to become really familiar with the indigenous plants, and to watch them at various stages of growth and at all seasons, they must be cultivated; and almost every school in the Dominion might have, at any rate, one bed, even if quite a small one, of the native plants. The gums, oaks, "macrocarpas," and other foreign trees now grown for shade or ornament in the school-grounds may be seen everywhere, and each school throughout the land might gradually replace or supplement them by those New Zealand trees best suited to the particular locality. Thus would the schools as a whole become sanctuaries where the native plants, one of the peculiar features and special glories of the land, would be safe for all time.

But it may be urged that such planting would not be feasible, since every one knows "the native plants are particularly difficult to grow, and when removed from their home in the forests or elsewhere will die." Such an opinion, although widespread, is quite erroneous. It is the rough treatment so frequently accorded to the specimens, first on their being collected, and afterwards when planted, that causes failure, and not any special difficulty in their cultivation; indeed, many are quite as easy to grow as the rank and file of garden plants.

There is no reason why, for instance, the kowhai, manuka, lace-bark, ribbonwood, lancewood, totara, large clematis, Goprosma robusta, page 168kauri, pittosporums, and various other forest-plants, as well as almost all the members of the subalpine scrub, should not be cultivated almost anywhere. The mistake so frequently made is to attempt the impossible—i.e., trying to grow a plant in a climate quite unsuitable. It is unreasonable, for example, to expect that the majority of lowland North Island trees can be grown in Canterbury, Otago, and Southland, just as it is hardly wise to try to cultivate plants of alpine and subantarctic meadows in the hottest or driest localities.

For the successful cultivation of many of our plants no particular soil or situation is required. Perhaps, on the whole, a slightly shady position is best. It is well, too, to have some shelter against high winds, especially at first. Such shelter can be supplied by certain indigenous trees—e.g., species of Pittosporum, Olearia Traversii, Senecio rotundifolius, Coprosma Baueri (not hardy everywhere), Coprosma robusta, and Veronica elliptica. Of course, an accurate knowledge as to the situation in which a plant grows naturally is of extreme value, and the method of studying the plant societies adopted in this book is of moment in this respect. But this is not all. It must have been seen by the reader that one particular species may grow in most diverse stations, and that another may grow in a wet place which is physiologically dry. For instance, because a plant grows in a sphagnum bog, it would not necessarily be wise to plant it in a very wet part of a garden. To attempt to grow the lovely Olearia semidentata of the Chathams in such a place would be to court disaster; it must be grown in well-drained ground where there is good shelter. Nor because the great forget-me-not of the same group is a sea-shore plant need one despair to cultivate it inland. In short, an acquaintance with natural conditions combined with experimental planting is a necessity for a full knowledge as to the cultural requirements of our plants.