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New Zealand Plants and their Story

The Families and Genera

The Families and Genera.

The daisy family (Compositae) is the largest of our families. What is popularly called the flower is not so, but is really a collection of small flowers placed closely side by side upon the expanded summit of the flower-stalk, and forming a "head." The cotton-plants, or mountain-daisies (Celmisia), the groundsels (Senecio), the vegetable-sheep and its relatives (Raoulia), the cotulas and the helichrysums belong to this order. Many are amongst the most striking of our plants, both in form and flower.

The bluebell family (Campanulaceae) has not many representatives with us. It contains the New Zealand bluebell (Wahlenbergia saxicola), whose white or bluish flowers are so conspicuous a feature of the upland meadow, and the pretty white pratias which are related to the well-known lobelia of gardens.

The madder family (Rubiaceae) contains the large genus Coprosma, which is closely related to the coffee-plant. Coprosmas can always be recognised by the male and female flowers being on different plants, and by the berry-like fruit containing two plano-convex stones.

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C. grandifolia has very large leaves and reddish-orange drupes, and is common in North Island forests, and extends, south as far as Greymouth and Kaikoura. C. Peiriei forms a close turf in the drier South Island mountains, and has large port-wine-coloured drupes, which occasionally are white and translucent. Many co-prosmas are shrubs of a dense habit of growth, with slender inter-lacing branches.

The figwort family (Scrophularinaceae) contains the very large genus Veronica and other genera of showy plants (Ourisia, Mimulus. Euphrasia, &c.).

The convolvulus family (Convolvulaceae) contains the beautiful climbing-convolvulus (Calystegia tuguriorum) and the lovely purple Ipomaea palmata of the shores of northern Auckland.

The borage family (Boraginaceae) comprises the forget-me-nots.

A little lower down the scale come the gentians (Gentianaceae).Owing to the bitter principle in their roots, these plants are not relished by stock. Possibly the root could be used as a tonic, like that of the European Gentiana lutea.

There is only one plant of the primrose family (Primulaceae), Samolus repens, a prostrate, white-flowered plant forming broad patches in salt meadows.

The heath family (Ericaceae and Epacridaceae) is important, as it contains many common shrubby plants. Draeophyllum, with needle-like leaves, and Gaultheria, with lily-of-the-valley-like flowers, are the most important genera.

The carrot family (Umbelliferae) is well represented, and contains one of the most remarkable genera of the flora, Aciphylla.

The willowherb family (Onagraceae) is represented by the large genus Epilobium. The species are not yet well known, and they are difficult for a beginner to determine. Some are distinctly pretty— e.g., E. pallidiflorum, E. macropus, E. vernicosum. Others become terrible weeds in an alpine garden—e.g., E. nummularifolium, E. linnaeoides. The fuchsias belong to this same family. Other related plants, though belonging to a different family, are the myrtles and ratas, both of which include some beautiful species—e.g., Myrtus bullata and Metrosideros lucida (Myrtaceae).

The mallow is a very showy family (Malvaceae), and contains some small-trees most valuable for garden purposes, as the lacebarks and ribbonwoods.

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Fig. 64.—Cushion of Carmichaelia Enysii var. orbiculata. Growing on it is Celmisia spectabilis and the Grass Danthonia semiannularis. Tongariro National Park.Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 64.—Cushion of Carmichaelia Enysii var. orbiculata. Growing on it is Celmisia spectabilis and the Grass Danthonia semiannularis. Tongariro National Park.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

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To the Elaeocarpaceae belongs the native currant (Aristotelia racemosa), one of the "fire weeds" of New Zealand—i.e., a plant which comes up abundantly after a forest is burned. Here also comes that fine tree the hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) and the pokaka (E. Hookerianus), with its distinct juvenile and adult forms.

The New Zealand geraniums belong to the family Geraniaceae. They are generally rather insignificant, though their first cousins the pelargoniums of gardens, incorrectly termed geraniums, are amongst the most showy of plants.

To the pea family (Leguminosae) belong the New Zealand brooms (Carmichaelia) (fig. 64), of which there are nineteen species, all of which have remarkable contrivances against drought. Here also comes the yellow kowhai (Sophora microphylla and its allies), and a rare mountain - plant, Swainsona novae-zelandiae, of Australian affinities. Then there is the parrotbill (Clianthus puniceus), which is related to Sturt's desert-pea of central Australia.

The rose family (Rosaceae) lacks in New Zealand the true roses, but is represented by the genera Rubus (five species or more), to which belongs the bush-lawyer; Geum (six species, all but one mountain-plants); Potentilla (one species); and Acaena, to which belong the species of piripiri—plants very unlike roses.

The pitchy-seed-family (Pittosporaceae) is common in all our forests. The genus can be recognised by the large capsules, which, when they open, contain black seeds imbedded in very sticky matter. P. tenuifolium, so largely used as a hedge plant, is wrongly called matipo by the gardeners, which is the name for various species of Suttonia.

Saxifrages (Saxifragaceae), plants so essentially alpine, are wanting in New Zealand; but we have some forest-trees belonging to the family—e.g., the putaputaweta (Carpodetus serratus). Weinmannia racemosa, called red-birch in Westland, is very common, and belongs to the Cunoniaceae, a most closely related family.

The sundews. (Drosera) belong to the family Droseraceae. There are six New Zealand species in the genus.

The magnificent magnolias of America and Asia (Magnoliaceae) are absent from our forests, their representatives being shrubs with rather insignificant flowers, the pepper-tree (Drimys axillaris, D. colorata, D. Traversii), a relation of the well-known Winter's bark of South America.

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The buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) contains, besides the butter-cups, of which there are about forty New Zealand species, the charming clematises (fig. 65), and an alpine genus (Caltha) containing two species, which have a most curiously lobed leaf.
Fig. 65.—Clematis afoliata.[Photo, J. Collins.

Fig. 65.—Clematis afoliata.
[Photo, J. Collins.

The mustard or cabbage family (Cruciferae) are mostly plants with rather insignificant flowers. Lepidium is the most important
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New Zealand genus, and L. oleraceum, Cook's scurvy-grass, the most celebrated plant.

To Loranthaceae belong the mistletoes.

The nettle family (Urticaceae) is distinguished by the appropriately named shrubby nettle, Urtica ferox.

The beeches (Fagaceae) have been noted when dealing with the beech forests in Chapter III.

To the pepper family (Piperaceae) belong the kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) and the succulent herb Peperomia Endlicheri.

Among the seed-plants which have only one seed-leaf in the seedling comes the important family of orchids (Orchidaceae), of which we have between fifty and sixty species, some few of which live upon trees and have aerial roots.

To the iris family (Iridaceae) belong the pretty and easily cultivated libertias.

The lily family contains the palm-lilies (Cordyline, cabbage-tree), and the New Zealand flax, of which there are two species, P. tenax and P. Cookianum, as already noted.

The palm family (Palmae) has two representatives—the nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida), and one found only on the Kermadec Islands, in the New Zealand region, but extending to Norfolk Island, R. Baueri by name.

The rush family (Juncaceae) is an extensive one, consisting of the alpine or subantarctic Rostkovia, the true rushes (Juncus), and the wood-rushes (Luzula).

The sedge family (Cyperaceae) contains many genera, some of which are frequently mistaken for rushes and others for grasses. Rushes, however, have flowers with small but distinct outer leaves; grasses have hollow jointed stems and leaves with split sheaths; and sedges, &c., have solid stems, frequently angular, and the leaf-sheaths not split.

The grasses (Gramineae) are almost the most important natural order, for their economic value cannot be overestimated. Some of the species are of extraordinary size—e.g., Arundo conspicua, Danthonia Cunninghamii, and D. antarctica, this latter belonging to the subantarctic islands. Others are extremely minute, as Agrostis muscosa, which forms small cushions on bare, wet ground in the subalpine and montane regions, and even occurs at sea-level in some places.

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The pine-trees, belonging to two families (Pinaceae and Taxaceae), conclude the seed-plants, and differ from all treated of above in that the ovules are naked and not enclosed in a closed chamber (ovary). The most curious of our taxads is Phyllocladus, whose "leaves" are really flattened stems, which in appearance exactly resemble leaves. True leaves, however, are to be seen on seedling plants.