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Forest Vines to Snow Tussocks: The Story of New Zealand Plants

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island175, 176, 180, 181

At the same latitude as Raoul Island, but 1400 km to the west, Norfolk Island is equally small with the even smaller Phillip Island a little to the south. The two islands are remnants of a long extinct volcano. Norfolk is fringed by cliffs and has a plateau-like surface rising gradually to a high point only 350 m above sea level. Little of the original vegetation remains as it was largely removed early last century as a result of a penal settlement being established and the subsequent settling of the island by the descendants of the 'Bounty' mutineers from Pitcairn in 1856. It has been prevented from re-establishing since that time by fires and grazing of stock. The climate, although a little drier than the Kermadecs, is suitable for forest and records of early explorers show that the island was originally covered with dense forest. The most notable species of the flora is the so-called Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), the only conifer native to any of the outlying islands. This has survived rather better than some of the other species and is still a distinctive feature of the landscape. In the original forest the Araucarias would have been emergent above the main canopy and may also have formed pure groves on less fertile sites as is the case with some of the Araucarias in New Caledonia.

The lower strata of the forest included species related to or the same as New Zealand species: Nestegis apetala, the palm Rhopalostylis baueri var. baueri, the tree fern Cyathea robusta, Melicytus ramiflorus, Macropiper excelsum f. psittacorum, Myoporum obscurum, Cordyline obtecta, Pennantia endlicheri and species of Meryta. Unlike the Kermadecs, Norfolk Island has locally page 219abundant lianes which include Freycinetia baueri var. baueri and Muehlenbeckia australis, shared with New Zealand, and species of Clematis, Passiflora, Ripogonum and several other genera. Vascular epiphytes also are more numerous — species of the orchid genera Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum, and species of Peperomia and among ferns Asplenium australasicum, A. polyodon, Pyrrosia confluens and the fern ally Tmesipteris forsteri.

The cliffs are occupied mostly by species widespread in the south-west Pacific, with the exception of Phormium tenax, shared with New Zealand, and Coprosma baueri, which occupies similar sites to its very close relatives C. repens in New Zealand and C. petiolata in the Kermadecs.

With about 174 species Norfolk has a rather larger flora than the Kermadecs. Of these perhaps 50 are endemic.

About 76 species are shared with New Zealand and, often, elsewhere.