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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

Vegetable Resources

Vegetable Resources.

Gums.—Although under the surface kauri gum is in reality a forest product. It is difficult to estimate the extent of our resources in this article, but I am informed that there is little chance of the supply giving out for many years to come. Gum-digging will probably last as long as alluvial gold-mining.

It is not generally known that retinite, a fossil resin or gum of a somewhat similar character, occurs in con siderable quantities in some of the lignite beds of the Middle Island. I have no doubt it could be utilised in the manufacture of varnishes, but its special properties and commercial value have not been determined. The lignite beds on the Maniototo Plain are believed to contain large deposits of retinite.

Timber.—Coming now to the ordinary vegetable resources of the Colony, we have first to deal with timber, the most important material in any new country. The total area of bush land of all kinds in New Zealand is variously estimated at from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 acres, but no attempt has been made to classify the different kinds or qualities of timber. Unfortunately the forests are not well dispersed throughout the Colony. Large portions of the North Island, and the whole of the West Coast of the South Island, have too much bush, while the eastern side of the South Island, north of the Clutha, has far too little. The great bulk of the settlement is in the latter area, consequently the timber supply is not convenient to the market. This is the principal reason why our forest resources have not been utilised to the fullest extent. It is easier to get ironbark page 37 for spokes from New South Wales than rata from the West Coast, although the latter is more suitable; and jarrah sleepers from Western Australia can sometimes be landed at Lyttelton and Port Chalmers at an advance of 20 per cent, on the cost of totara or matai from Southland or Wellington. When we consider the relative values of the timbers the balance is greatly in favour of the imported article—jarrah being one of the best timbers in the world for sleepers. These anomalies will of course rectify themselves as industries develop and communication is further improved.

New Zealand has no extensive supply of large hardwood timber of special strength, like the gums of Australia and Tasmania, but she has what is more valuable, a great quantity of the pines and other softwoods that are most required for building purposes—and there are few countries in which such a variety of timber occurs. The other Australasian colonies near us are very deficient in this respect. New South Wales and Tasmania have each only one large softwood tree, the Sydney cedar and Huon pine; and Victoria is in much the same category. New Zealand has 10 pines that yield sawing timber, six of them being large trees.

The supplies of the various kinds of timber in the Colony are well proportioned to our wants, but for the reason already given many special kinds are still unused. We have for several years produced all our own building timbers and had a surplus to export, but considerable quantities of hardwoods and furniture woods are still imported. There is no substitute for the Australian gums for long timbers of special strength, but the ordinary hardwoods imported for the use of the wheelwright, carriage builder, and implement maker, might well be superseded by the native article. Kowhai and rata are much stronger and quite as straight-grained as English oak and ash. And in the matter of furniture page 38 woods, beyond the fact that cedar is easier worked, there is no point in which the imported materials can be compared with the home products. New Zealand is particularly rich in ornamental woods, and some of the best have never been utilised.

As in the case of many other Colonial products, the fashion is to deprecate New Zealand timbers. There is no real ground for doing so—class for class they compare favourably with timbers of other countries. Their faults and failures are not so much due to inherent defects as to improper treatment and ignorance of the relative qualities of the different kinds. Instead of using well-dried heart-wood from mature trees, felled at the proper season, we put into our houses wet sap-wood from young trees, that are felled when most convenient; often in their juiciest state. And without a single enquiry into its suitableness, timber is constantly used in positions for which it was never intended by nature.

Minor Forest Products.—As a minor forest product I have already referred to the fungus found on the trees in the North Island and exported to China. We have little information as to the extent of our resources in this commodity; they are believed to be considerable; and, being a growth which replenishes itself, the industry will undoubtedly be permanent.

Five or six of the native trees furnish bark, rich in tannin, which is gradually coming into use. On my recommendation a Christchurch firm recently made a trial of kamai bark, from Southland. The result is highly satisfactory, and a considerable trade will probably ensue if a regular supply can be obtained. Considering that between £30,000 and £40,000 worth of bark is annually imported, the development of our native resources is worthy of attention.

Many of the New Zealand plants furnish dye-stuffs of various colours. The Maoris were well acquainted with page 39 their properties and used them extensively, but the settlers have hitherto done little with them. Neither have we made any attempt to utilise the extracts, turpentine, creosote, tar, pitch, resin, and other similar products of our forests.

Phormium.—The problem of cultivating the native hemp profitably has not yet been solved. Until this is done there can be little advance in the industries connected with this product, for the natural supply is rapidly decreasing. Phormium thrives best in good land, consequently it vanishes on the approach of agriculture.