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The Vegetation of New Zealand


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Early in the year 1904 I had the honour to receive a letter from Prof. Dr. A. Engler inviting me to contribute to the comprehensive "Vegetation der Erde" a volume written in English dealing with the plant-geography of New Zealand. At the same time Prof. Engler sent me a synopsis of the proposed work, which he had prepared, and on that, with certain modifications, this book is based.

At that time many wide areas in New Zealand were botanically unexplored and a great part of the remainder was imperfectly known, consequently it was essential for me to acquire a first-hand knowledge of at least typical examples of the vegetation of each botanical district. This preliminary work was steadily carried on year by year, but it was not completed until June, 1913, at which period the actual writing of the book was begun. By the end of March, 1914, the work was completed, and soon afterwards the manuscript was forwarded to Berlin.

It is no easy matter, even when in close touch with the publisher, to see a scientific work through the press. How much then are the difficulties increased when half the circumference of the Globe separates publisher and author. Nor are these difficulties lessened when the copy for the printer to deal with is in a foreign tongue. But consider the infinitely greater difficulties which arose through the long years of the gigantic world-struggle and the subsequent time of reconstruction!

Much of the book only came into my hands in the form of paged proofs, so little more than verbal corrections could be made. Fortunately this was not the case from page 209 onwards, for of this portion galley proofs were available. These reached me in June, 1920, rather more than six years after the manuscript had left New Zealand, and, thanks to the publisher, I was permitted to make certain important alterations designed to bring the latter part of the work up to the present-day state of knowledge of the vegetation and flora of New Zealand. Not that the other part of the book is greatly deficient in this respect, since much of the theme is the primitive plant-covering.

With regard to the classification of the vegetation, with some modifications Warming's system of 1909 is followed. But the system adopted for such a book as this is not of great moment, since, above all else, the aim should be to present as vivid and accurate a picture as possible of the actual vegetation of the country. This surely is the first step in a plant-geographical description of any country. And it is the more necessary in a region, such as New Zealand, possessing a truly virgin vegetation which is rapidly becoming modified, or even destroyed.

As for the biology of the plants the somewhat novel method is adopted of giving detailed statistics regarding the growth-forms of the species and of page VIcertain of their vegetative parts. This procedure should be useful for comparative purposes both in the region dealt with and elsewhere. Obviously in deciding certain points, such as relative size or texture of leaves, the personal equation comes in, but where many species are concerned this should not affect the general result.

No attempt is made at completeness. On the contrary, owing partly to the limited space available and partly to the great variety of New Zealand plant communities, the matter is greatly condensed. Many species, especially those which are rare, are not mentioned; it is, after all, the common ones which are of prime importance.

The reader not acquainted with the New Zealand flora has been kept in mind. The leading physiognomic plants are treated at considerable length for each section of the vegetation, while the growth-forms of many species are described when they first appear in the text. Vernacular names are specially avoided.

Since 1914 I have ceased calling the tussock formations of New Zealand "steppe" because they do not fit into the usual plant-geographical conception of that term. I have therefore substituted "tussock-grassland" as a self explanatory name for a distinct type of vegetation. This term appears once or twice in the latter part of the book, but generally "steppe" remains. It must be remembered, then, that the latter is ecologically distinct from true steppe, indeed it has much wider physiological capabilities and can maintain itself intact under a surprising variety of conditions.

The meaning of "epharmonic", as used in the biological chapters, must be explained, since its significance according to my usage is somewhat different to Vesque's definition of the term. In this book, and in my other publications, by "epharmonic variation" is meant a change in its form, or physiological behaviour, beneficial to an organism evoked by the operation of some environmental stimulus. Such a change may be called an epharmonic adaptation as distinguished from such adaptations as cannot be traced to any direct action of the environment.

Apart from those mentioned in the text with regard to photographs, or special information, which they have generously supplied, many botanists and others have given valuable and much-appreciated assistance with regard to this book. To name all would extend this preface far beyond its alloted space, to give merely a partial list would be invidious. Therefore, I thank most sincerely one and all.

I must, however, express my gratitude to Prof. Dr. L. Diels who has devoted much valuable time to seeing the book through the press. Nor can I neglect thanking Prof. Dr. A. Engler for having allowed me the great privilege of contributing to this famous series of monographs of which he and Prof. Dr. 0. Drude are the distinguished Editors.

Ngaio, Wellington, New Zealand, January 15th, 1921.

L. Cockayne.