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New Zealand Plants and their Story

Vegetation of Cliffs and Rocks

Vegetation of Cliffs and Rocks.

Metrosideros tomentosa, the well-known pohutukawa, the Christmas-tree of which the Aucklanders are justly proud, was formerly much more abundant than at present. It grows frequently on the faces of cliffs, stretching outwards over the oyster-covered rocky shore. Some of its roots are fixed in the solid rock, and creep for long distances over the surface—a most remarkable sight—while others page 79are given off quite high, up the trunk or from the branches; but these do not usually reach the ground. Not infrequently the pohutukawa is of a quite erect growth, as may he seen in many coastal forests (fig. 36). It occurs on the coast from the Three Kings Islands to Poverty Bay and Taranaki, and inland on the shores of Lake Taupo, Waikaremoana, Rotorua, Roto-iti, &c. Other common coastal trees in the north are the karo (Pittosporum crassifolium), P. umbellatum, and the whau (Entelea arborescens).On the trunks of the pohutukawa the perching-lily (Astelia Banksii) often forms
Fig. 36.—Pohutukawa growing as erect many-stemmed Tree in School-grounds, Kawakawa, East Cape.[Photo, L. Cockayne.

Fig. 36.—Pohutukawa growing as erect many-stemmed Tree in School-grounds, Kawakawa, East Cape.
[Photo, L. Cockayne.

enormous masses, and this also clothes the coastal cliffs. These, even when fully exposed to wind and sea, are abundantly beautified by the charming lily, Arthropodium cirrhatum.
The coastal cliffs of east Marlborough in due season become scenes of great floral beauty. Here the rather straggling shrub Olearia insignis has its home. Its large, thick, and very leathery leaves, buff on the under-surface, and its fine flower-heads, render it a conspicuous object. How a plant in such a position, growing as it does page 80on the driest rocks imaginable, can get sufficient food seems a mystery. It puts one in mind of William Watson's lines—

Some adventurous flower
On savage crag-side grown
Seems nourished hour by hour
From its wild self alone.

Growing in company with O. insignis is Phormium Cookianum, its leaves drooping from the cliff; the delightful Veronica Hulkeana, with varnished green leaves, whose masses of delicate lilac flowers have earned for it the name of New Zealand lilac; and the aniseed (Angelica Gingidium).

The only member of the gourd family in New Zealand is at the present time quite rare on the mainland, and it may be best seen on some of the outlying islands of the north. On the Little Barrier, at the foot of the cliffs, it is abundant, scrambling over the kawa-kawa (Macropiper excelsum), or ascending to the topmost branches of the pohutukawas.

Certain ferns are peculiar to the coast, and are frequent on the cliffs. The most widely spread is the sea-spleenwort (Asplenium obtusatum).The coastal hard-fern (Blechnum durum) occurs only in the southern part of the South Island and in Stewart Island, but it is abundant also in the New Zealand subantarctic islands and the Chathams. All the coastal ferns have very thick and stiff leaves.