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New Zealand Plants and their Story

The Kauri and Kahikatea Forests

The Kauri and Kahikatea Forests.

As stated at the beginning of this chapter, New Zealand contains many varieties of forests. Here only some of the more distinct are mentioned.

The kauri forest extends from the north of Auckland Provincial District to almost latitude 38°. It is probably the noblest tree community of temperate regions. The kauri (Agathis australis) (fig. 15) is not a close relation of the Old World pines, but is nearer to the monkey-puzzle family (Araucaria).

A kauri forest by no means consists of that tree alone, for the taraire (Beilschmiedia tarairi)—very handsome, with its rather large leaves, darkish - green above and bluish - white beneath—is often dominant.* The kauris form smaller or larger clumps. The kauri trees themselves are some distance apart, and the spaces between are filled up with a close growth of the huge tussocks of the kaurigrass (Astelia trinervia)—which, of course, is not a grass at all, but belongs to the lily family—and a sedge (Gahnia xanthocarpa), with leaves sharp as a razor; while growing through these are certain shrubs or small trees, especially the aromatic-leaved maireire (Phebalium nudum), the spiderwood (Dracophyllum latifolium), Kirk's groundsel (Senecio Kirkii), bearing in its season white daisy-like blossoms, and the silver tree-fern (Cyathea dealbata).Where the undergrowth is more scanty the stately kauris appear in all their grandeur, their huge grey, shining, columnar trunks rising up 60 ft. and may be 80 ft. without a branch (fig. 16), and dwarfing altogether the other trees.

High above the general forest-roof tower the great spreading branches, themselves equalling forest-trees in size. At the base of each tree is a pyramidal mound of humus caused by the shedding of the bark. Common in the kauri forest is the fantastic and irregular trunk of the rata (Metrosideros robusta) (fig. 17), its base covered with sheets of translucent kidney-ferns (Trichomanes reniforme).

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Fig. 16.—Interior of portion of Waipoua Kauri Forest, where the Kauris are abundant.Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 16.—Interior of portion of Waipoua Kauri Forest, where the Kauris are abundant.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

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Fig. 17.—Base of a Northorn Rata-tree (Metrosideros robusta), showing its irregular from Kapiti Island.Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 17.—Base of a Northorn Rata-tree (Metrosideros robusta), showing its irregular from Kapiti Island.
Lands Department.] [Photo, L. Cockayne.

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Seen from without, a kauri forest is equally remarkable. The spreading heads of the kauris rise so high above the general forest-roof that it looks as if one forest were superimposed upon another. Very frequently there is found in the undergrowth a miniature tree-fern (Blechnum Fraseri), which has a very slender trunk 1 in. or less in diameter—not thicker, indeed, than a stout walking-stick—and rarely more than 3 ft. tall, and which spreads into large colonies by means of long slender creeping stems. Dicksonia lanata, too, another small treefern, but with a stout trunk, is frequently plentiful in some places, and may then form much of the undergrowth.

The kahikatea forest consists almost exclusively of Podocarpus dacrydioides— multitudes of long, straight trunks, like masts of ships, rising from the swampy ground. High up some of the stems climb the New Zealand screw-pine, the kiekie (Freycinetia Banhsii), which also everywhere forms a rigid entanglement along the forest floor. Dead trees bridge the ever-present pools of water, and certain shrubs, of which in the north Coprosma tenuicaulis is one, form more or less dense thickets.

* This is specially true of the northern forests. Those of the Thames and the Waitakerei Range contained much more tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa).