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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64



Otago possesses three members of this genus, which is a small one confined to the Southern Pacific; they consist of a large and a small timber tree, and a mountain shrub. According to Gordon, there are only two large timber trees of this family out of New Zealand; one frequents the mountains of Sumatra, and the other is the famous Huon pine of Tasmania.

No. 6. Red Pine—Darrydium cupressimum. This is the most plentiful of the pines, and the most used timber tree in Otago; it is found in all the low-lying forests round the coast from Waikouaiti to Martin Bay. It grows to a height of one hundred and fifty feet, with a clear straight trunk up to eighty page 161 feet high and five feet diameter. A log recently taken at random on the Orepuki Railway measured fifty-five feet to the lowest branch; it was four feet three inches diameter at the butt, three feet sis inches diameter at a height of forty feet from the ground, and four feet three inches diameter at the top. At Catlin River mature trees measure about forty feet long by two feet six inches to four feet diameter; those from sixty to eighty feet, of which there are a large number, do not generally exceed eighteen inches in diameter. The logs that came from Pine Hill are usually about twenty feet long, and from eighteen inches to two feet six inches thick. Red pine trunks have little taper, they are almost cylindrical from the ground to the lowest branches; the base is usually furnished with buttresses that run eight or ten feet up, consequently the trunk is not round for that distance. The bark is rough and scaly, and of a dark brown colour; it comes off in large flakes every year, which in course of time forms a huge mound of a peaty nature round the tree. This mound ignites readily when dry, so is possibly the cause of many bush fires, Young red pine is noted for its beautiful green foliage, which droops in feathery tassels like larch or willow; but, as the tree grows old, the foliage becomes stiff and erect like the other native pines. An ordinary-sized tree reaches maturity in about 500 years, and young plants make wood at the rate of about a foot per annum. Seedlings are very tender and difficult to rear when removed from their native forests, and large trees are easily killed by stripping a ring of bark near the roots. The bark of the red pine is good for tanning, and the juice of the young branches was made into beer by Captain Cook; but I have not heard of its being utilized in the same way by any other white man.

This timber has a very large proportion of sap-wood which is not well defined. There is little or no heart in trees under eighteen inches in diameter, a size that is frequently cut into market stuff. The following I notes give the quantity of sap-wood in a number of large trees at Oropuki.

  • No. 1.—4′ 6″ diameter, 8 feet from ground had 10 inches of sap.
  • 2.—4′ 0″ diameter 10 feet from ground had 4½ inches of sap.
  • 3.—8′ 7″ diameter 40 feet from ground had 4½ inches of sap.
  • 4.—8′ 6″ diameter 20 feet from ground had 6 inches of sap.
  • 5.—3′ 0″ diameter 40 feet from ground had 4 inches of sap.
  • 6.—2′ 8″ diameter 9 feet from ground had 4 inches of sap.

The trunk of No. 1 was forty-six feet long. Three feet logs from Pine Hill, Water-of-Leith, and Blanket Bay, at Messrs. Asher and Co.'s yard, show from three to four inches of sap. One tree nineteen inches in diameter had only nine inches of heart. At Catlin River, where this tree seems to grow remarkably well, the proportion of sap-wood is smaller than near Dunedin; page 162 three-feet trees have only about three inches of sap, which is tolerably well defined, and the heart shows at an earlier stage of growth.

Red pine frequently grows with a twist in the trunk, and more sap-wood on the one side than on the other, consequently the timber is cross-grained and irregular in strength and consistency; mature trees are also subject to heart shakes and cracks. This defect is occasionally a want of cohesion between the annual rings in the inner core of three or four inches, but oftener it consists of a straight crack from three to nine inches long, filled with gum or resin. This opening is of little moment in straight logs, but it renders the whole centre unserviceable for sawing up when the timber is twisted. The state of the bark is a good indication of the ripeness of red pine; trees in vigorous growth have large dark-coloured scales that adhere closely at certain seasons, and those of mature age have short light-coloured scales, easily removed at any season of the year.

The colour of red pine timber is very variable; it ranges from light yellow to deep red, and there is generally a handsome figure in boards. It is the third in order of strength of our Otago pines, but is more irregular in grain than black pine or miro, consequently is less trustworthy in beams. Red pine is much used in house framing and general carpenter-work, for which it is well adapted; but on account of being harder and more brittle, and more given to shrink irregularly, it is not equal to white pine for flooring, weather-boards, and internal joiner-work. Red pine is much prized as a furniture wood, some of its figures being remarkably beautiful. When well fitted and seasoned, it stands as well as most foreign timbers that are used for this purpose.

The heart of red pine is durable; any quantity can be got in the forest quite fresh after lying for ages, but in consequence of its small size, and the danger of using sap instead, we must treat the whole tree as perishable, The ordinary red pine of the market is very liable to decay in any exposed situation. A survey peg which I put into the ground at Tokomairiro in August, 1869, was quite rotten in April, 1872. Beams eighteen inches by fifteen, put into the Southland railway bridges in 1863, were a mass of putrefaction in 1868; nothing but a crust about half an inch thick remained solid, and this was in the most favourable situation possible, for there was no planking on the bridges, and no mortice holes or checks on the upper side of the beams. Although not nearly so bad, a similar state of things was observed in the old Bell Tower, Dunedin, erected in 1864, and pulled down in 1872; some of the timbers were fresh in the middle, but all were rotten at the joints.

Rimu, the native name of this tree, is now tolerably well known in Otago. So if professional men and timber merchants would only encourage page 163 its use, it would soon supersede the vague conventional term of "red pine."

No. 7. Yellow Pine—Dacrydium colensoi. This tree is only found in small quantities on Pine Hill, Mount Cargill, and other east coast ranges, but is tolerably plentiful on the west coast.

It is a small tree seldom exceeding forty feet in height, with a trunk twenty feet long and two feet six inches in diameter. It is remarkable in having frequently two distinct kinds of foliage on the same tree, that on the lower branches being flat and pendulous, and on the top ones round, rigid, and erect. The bark is like that of young red pine, but the timber is quite different. It is of a clear yellowish colour, with little sap, straight in the grain, dense in texture, and solid throughout; altogether one of the finest looking of our Otago pinewoods.

The tree contains a large quantity of resinous matter, which cannot be expelled by artificial drying with hot air. It burns freely, emitting a dark bituminous smoke, and a strong smell exactly like the knots of larch. Some Scandinavians near Mount Cargill attempted to extract pitch from the yellow pine, but I do not know if they succeeded. It is from this resinous property in the timber that the settlers' name of tar-wood is derived.

Yellow pine is employed in the North Island for ordinary building purposes, but on account of being scarce and of a small size it is little known in Otago as a timber tree. The durability of the wood is undoubted. Three-inch saplings used as piles in a Maori pah at Waimate are still as fresh as when driven 80 years ago. This wood seems admirably adapted for turning and other work of a similar kind where evenness of grain and density are desiderata.

No. 8. Celery Pine—Phyllocladus trichomanoides. The genus to which the celery pine belongs only embraces three timber trees, one each in Borneo, Tasmania, and New Zealand. Our specimen is common in the northern provinces, and at high altitudes on the west coast, but rare on the east coast of Otago. There are, however, a few trees to be met with in the vicinity of Dunedin and from the Clutha southwards.

The tree grows to a height of from fifty to sixty feet, with a straight clear trunk two to three feet in diameter for two-thirds of the distance. It is a remarkably handsome plant of the true pine shape. The leaves are quite different from the other conifers of Otago. Instead of a mere cluster of thin foliage, the tree is covered with large well-defined leaves like the common celery plant, from which the name is derived, but of a brownish colour. The bark is smooth and solid, dark on the surface, and of a uniform brown colour inside. It is known to be good for tanning, and the natives use it as a dye. The wood is soft, straight grained, tough and flexible, with page 164 little sap, but subject to heart decay. The colour is somewhat like miro without the irregular blotches.

This timber has not to my knowledge been used in Otago. It is suited to any and all of the purposes to which the other pines are applied. According to Mr. Kirk its durability is undoubted. He gives it as high, if not a higher place than totara.