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Tuatara: Volume 29, Issues 1 and 2, August 1987

Book Review — Vegetation Of Egmont National Park New Zealand

page 30

Book Review
Vegetation Of Egmont National Park New Zealand

This soft-covered book of 95 pages of text and illustrations, seems relatively expensive. However it includes “valued at NZ$5” a map of Egmont National Park (scale 1:40,000). This is in a pocket, made of an ordinary envelope, complete with gummed flap, opened out and pasted face downwards to the inside of the back cover. Surprisingly, although the map is the 7th edition, 1986, with distances in kilometres, contour lines are still in feet. A member of the Cartography Section of the Department of Lands and Survey informed that it is a considerable task to ‘metricate’ contour lines, but this task has almost been finished for Egmont National Park and the next edition of the map will have altitudes in metres.

What does Bruce Clarkson call the mountain, in view of the recent edict that one can choose between “Mt Egmont” and “Mt Taranaki”? Happily, the latter! The great 19th century explorer Dumont d' Urville had the right idea, when he named parts of New Zealand, with the proviso that they revert to their Maori names when these were known. The Park itself continues as “Egmont” National Park. This seems logical, for the Park includes the Kaitake and Pouakai Ranges — remnants of volcanoes which formed some 575,000 and 250,000 years ago, respectively. Mt Taranaki is a comparative youngster as it is believed to have been initiated a mere 70,000 years ago and last erupted in 1655 A.D.

The author, Dr Bruce Clarkson. is an ecologist at Botany Division, D.S.I.R., located at Rotorua, who has had a long-term interest in the botany of the Taranaki District. His Ph.D. thesis was devoted to “Vegetation Studies in the Taranaki Land District”.

The book is well written and an excellent blend of general information on the vegetation which would appeal to the ‘general reader’, as well as detailed information for the specialist, in the form of an 11 page appendix, which gives a detailed listing of the plants present in a series of plots and transects at selected parts of the Park. There is a comprehensive list of references, occupying 3 pages, which would be very useful to anyone needing further information on Egmont National Park.

“Vegetation of Egmont National Park” is divided into the following sections: Geology, landforms and volcanic history; Soils; Climate; Browsing mammals; Human activity in the park (including Maori activity before European settlement); Previous botanical work; The vegetation pattern; The vegetation and substrate classes; Flora and Conclusion. Most of the book, of course, is devoted to the vegetation, but the preceding sections are well-summarised and interesting. In the climate section, it is recorded, for example, that in February 1971, 795 mm (31 inches) of rain fell in 48 hours!

Dr Clarkson comments that it is only in the last 30 years that the full extent of the vascular flora of Egmont National Park has been determined and pays tribute to Tony Druce. late of Botany Division, D.S.I.R.:

A.P. Druce in a series of publications between 1953 and 1976 made the major page 31 contribution to the understanding of the vascular flora and vegetation of the park. Many of the features referred to by earlier authors were quantified for the first time, including the vegetation composition, extent of the vascular flora, and the “missing” taxa. Above all, Druce clearly established the significance of recent eruptions in determining vegetation composition and provided estimated dates for their occurrence. This work is referred to throughout The vegetation and substrate classes and Flora sections.”

The section on the vegetation pattern is divided into altiuidinal zonation; drainage and topography; succession: and animal modification. The largest section. on the vegetation and substrate classes, is subdivided into lowland forest; lowland tree fernland and scrub, induced grassland, and cliff vegetation; exotic plantations; montane forest; mire vegetation; subalpine scrub and shrubland; subalpine and alpine tussockland; alpine herbfield; alpine gravelfield, stonefield, boulderfield. rockland, snowfield and icefield; miscellaneous classes occupying more than one altitudinal zone. Explanations are provided for certain features of the vegetation. Bruce Clarkson notes, for example, that overseas research in tropical goblin forests (cloud forests) shows that frequent cloud, mist or fog can lower transpiration rates in trees and limit nutrient uptake, with such nutrient starvation causing the gnarled, stunted growth forms characteristic of such forests.

The flora section records that there are approximately 550 indigenous species of vascular plants in the Park and Tony Druce has estimated that 50% of the total native vascular plant flora of the North Island occurs in Egmont National park. There are about 100 adventive (introduced) species. “Five or six” of the native species are restricted to the Park and include an unnamed species of Melicytus, which is illustrated. There are glossaries of common and scientific names of plant species and technical terms, though some terms e.g. lahar, have been missed. There is also a useful glossary of recent changes to the scientific names of some plants, although Brachyglottis rotundifolia (Senecio elaeagnifolius) has been left out.

Figures in the book included several transects, a map of the vegetation pattern of the Ahukawakawa swamp (from a M.Sc. thesis by M.A. Waters) as well as an excellent multicoloured vegetation map. There are too, 9 very good black and white photos by M.R. Boase and 16 colour photos by Boase and Clarkson. Some of the latter have a rather ‘washed out’ appearance.

Then there are the superb drawings by Bruce Irwin, an outstanding feature of the book. Mr Irwin, in a series of 18 full page plates, illustrates 64 species of native plants. They seem even better than the outstanding illustrations in his previous book (“The Oxford Book of New Zealand Plants”, by L. B. Moore and J. B. Irwin. Oxford University Press, 1978). They are particularly valuable for the information which they give on floral structure. Many of the plants illustrated in the present book have not been illustrated in the Oxford book. A few drawings have been culled from the latter e.g. male and female flowers of pukatea (Laurelia novae-zelandiae).

Bruce Clarkson concludes the text with a warning that the control of wild animals (fortunately deer are absent from the Park!) will require “unrelenting pursuit and adequate funding” and that certain areas of high scientific importance must be guarded against development or over-use.

The book is not free of small errors, including spelling mistakes and I noted page 32 some errors amongst references cited. However these are small quibbles and I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in New Zealand natural history and National Parks. If only it could have sold for $19.50 rather than $29.50.