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New Zealand Plants and their Story

New Zealand Forest-trees as Timbers

New Zealand Forest-trees as Timbers.

The forests are of great commercial importance to the Dominion. Some of the timbers are excellent for house-building, others are used as piles for bridges and sleepers on railways, and some are ornamental and can be used for furniture and general decorative work. The wood of the kauri (Agathis australis) is celebrated the world over, but, alas, it is rapidly being exhausted. There seems, however, every probability, according to the late Mr. H. J. Matthews, that a kauri forest from which the large trees have been cut would in time reproduce itself. With this opinion the writer, from his own observations, is quite in accord. It is unlikely, however, that such restoration would be of commercial importance, since the kauri is a tree of extremely slow growth.

At the same time, it must not be forgotten that forests, apart altogether from their timber value, are of the greatest importance to all countries because they help to conserve and regulate the water-supply—a quite different matter, however, to influencing the rainfall. Thus no forest-growth, whether primeval or secondary, should be destroyed without some strong economic reason. There are thousands of acres fit only for the natural growths now clothing them, and the destruction of these forests would be a fatal mistake.

page 40
Fig. 14.—"Gum-climber" at work on trunk of a Kauri (Agathis australis).Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 14.—"Gum-climber" at work on trunk of a Kauri (Agathis australis).
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

page 41

An important by-product of the kauri is the resin, known as "gum." This is usually dug out of the ground, covered now by the northern heath, but originally occupied by kauri forest. Trees, also, have incisions made into their bark—a mischievous proceeding, the sap flowing out freely, and soon hardening into resin, which is removed finally by men who climb the trees (fig. 14).

The kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides), the rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), and the miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus) all afford excellent timber for various purposes, the two latter being confused in many timber-yards. The matai (Podocarpus spicatus) is a fine wood for resisting weather, and is only excelled by the totara (Podocarpus totara) and the Westland pine (Dacrydium Colensoi), the D. westlandicum of the "Forest Flora," and the yellow-pine (D. intermedium).These two last, also, are used largely for railway-sleepers. For fencing-posts the puriri (Vitex luccns), the broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), and the kowhai are excellent, but the first and last become scarcer daily. It should be quite feasible to raise the kowhai artificially in any quantity, since it germinates readily from seed, and will grow very well in the open. The New Zealand honeysuckle (Knightia excelsa, rewarewa) is one of the handsomest woods in the world. Unfortunately, great quantities are destroyed through settlement—a destruction which should be stopped, if possible.

Other valuable timbers are: The northern rata (Metrosideros robusta), which is extremely hard and useful for wheelwright's work and bridge-building, as well as being an excellent firewood; the various species of Nothofagus, especially N. fusca, yielding a durable and strong building-material, which warps more or less; the pahautea (Libocedrus Bidwillii), a very light wood, of a red colour, out of which canoes have been made; the towai or kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa), yielding an excellent bark for tanning, and a wood both ornamental and strong; the pukatea (Laurelia novae-zelandiae), with pale-brown, soft but strong and tough wood, which has been used for boat-building and furniture; the maire-rau-nui (Olea Cunninghamii), an extremely strong timber.

Further details, however, are unnecessary; they may be found by those interested in Kirk's "Forest Flora," and in the admirable report of the Lands Department entitled "Forestry in New Zealand." Most of the trees have some use or other; but, as is the case page 42
Fig. 15.—A giant Kauri, 46 ft. in circumference at 6 ft. from ground. Waipoua Kauri Forest.Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 15.—A giant Kauri, 46 ft. in circumference at 6 ft. from ground. Waipoua Kauri Forest.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

page 43in all recently settled countries, the best timbers alone are used, and the rest go to the wall, to make room for the flocks, herds, and crops of the settler, although in many instances the forest is undoubtedly the best crop the land will ever yield.