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New Zealand Plants and their Story

The Lower Plants

The Lower Plants.

The seed-plants do not by any means comprise the whole of the New Zealand flora. There are, for example, more than a hundred and fifty species of ferns and their allies, including one genus, Loxsoma, peculiar to New Zealand.

Ferns differ greatly in their form and the texture of their leaves. Some possess two different kinds of leaves—namely, those which bear spores and those which do not, the latter having generally a larger area of surface. The genus Blechnum is especially distinguished by its two forms of leaves. Generally the leaf-surface is more or less vertical; but in Gleichenia it is horizontal, whence the species of that genus get the name of "umbrella-ferns" (fig. 66). To the genera Hymenophyllum and Trichomanes belong the beautiful filmy ferns. The leaves of these ferns are generally much divided, but those of the kidney-fern (Trichomanes reniforme) are entire. This fern, notwithstanding its thin leaves,* often grows in remarkably dry stations, as on Rangitoto Island, near Auckland City.

The mosses and liverworts embrace hundreds of species living under all kinds of conditions, and varying in size from the giant Dawsonia superba, 2 ft. or more tall, to tiny species of liverworts (Frulania, &c.) clinging to the bark of trees. Very interesting is the way in which both mosses and liverworts build up great cushions in stations where the air is almost constantly saturated with moisture. In the forests of Stewart Island, but chiefly in the south and west, the cushions look just like moss-covered boulders (fig. 67).

Low down in the scale of plant-life come those most wonderful plants, the fungi, whose life-histories are as marvellous as any fairy tale, and of which little or nothing was known fifty years ago. Now page 164their study is of the highest economic importance, and plant pathologists are employed by all progressive countries. One example of a New Zealand fungus must suffice. In the Nothofagus forests the boles of the larger trees are covered in many instances with a thick coating of a coal-black hue, which gives the trunks the appearance of having been plastered thickly with soot, and tends to enhance the gloomy character of the interior of these forests. This coating consists of a fungus, Antennaria by name, which is especially interesting from the manner in which it gets its food-supply. Antennaria belongs to
Fig. 66.—The Umbrella-fern (Gleichenia Cunninghamii).Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 66.—The Umbrella-fern (Gleichenia Cunninghamii).
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

the group of "honey-dew fungi," so named because they utilise as food the exudation excreted by certain insects. If a piece of the plant be examined carefully, there will be found imbedded in its interior numerous reddish insects somewhat resembling tiny wood-lice, surrounded with white fluffy material like cotton-wool. These are scale-insects related to the well-known Coccus cacti, from which the colouring-matter cochineal is made. This beech-coccus exudes considerable quantities of a sweet sticky fluid, on which the black fungus feeds; page 165
Fig. 67.—Cushion of the Moss Dicranoloma Billardieri, 2 ft. 4 in. tall. Mount Rakiahua, Stewart Island.Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 67.—Cushion of the Moss Dicranoloma Billardieri, 2 ft. 4 in. tall. Mount Rakiahua, Stewart Island.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

page 166while at the same time the scale-insect lives warm and snug under the protection of its sooty covering. Antennaria can also exist without its animal lodger and the rent which it pays in kind, but in this case I have been informed that the fungus changes its habit of growth somewhat in accordance with its altered circumstances.

After the fungi come the algae, salt water and fresh. Macrocystis. a brown seaweed, attains an enormous size, and lengths of many hundreds of feet are not unknown; indeed, this plant may be the famous "sea-serpent."

Then we have the bacteria—the "microbes" of the newspapers—all infinitesimally minute plants; some the greatest of benefactors, and others the deadly enemies of mankind. And finally come the slime-fungi (Myxomycetes), which may be seen as masses of jelly on rotten wood, and which, moreover, are at one period of their existence animals, and at another plants!