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Chapter XXV. — Stowaways

page 252

Chapter XXV.

Like stowaways from a vessel's hold, many weeds have leapt on the new-found land to seize their share of its advantages. Such species have managed to secrete themselves in grass seed, oat seed, and turnip seed, amongst the grain itself, in the corners of the sacks, or in the interstices of their material. Stowaways have arrived also in packets of flower or vegetable seeds. Perhaps in these ways a particularly large number of strangers have smuggled themselves on to Tutira. Owing to the great extent of second and third-class country sown, also to the parlous state of the finances of the run in early days, cheap seeds were largely purchased; hundreds of bags of “seconds,” of Yorkshire fog and warehouse sweepings, have been at various times scattered broadcast on its pumiceous areas.1

Between '82 and '88, owing to financial reasons, but little progress was made in the development of Tutira. About the latter date, however, such improvements as sowing, which had altogether ceased, were recommenced. Season by season grass was scattered broadcast over many thousand of acres. There are but few of the larger blocks, therefore, that have not from time to time yielded new aliens.

The paddock known as “Stuart's” was the earliest of the large areas thus successively fenced, seeded, and crushed. It furnished us with four stowaways—hair-grass (Aira caryophyllea), crested dog's tail (Cynosurus cristatus), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), and common vetch (Vicia sativa). These four arrived with stuff supplied by a friend who, at that time, owned a business in flower, vegetable and field

1 When in the 'eighties on one occasion tailings were required for a neighbouring run,—except Arapawanui, all east-coast runs north of Napier during the 'eighties were on their last legs,—none were forthcoming. “For,” said the store-man to the would-be purchaser, “a fellow called Guthrie-Smith bought them all a month ago; he should have got seven years for it.”

page 253 seeds. The two grasses had secreted themselves amongst the purchased sacks. The round peas of the vetch had no doubt been split on the floor of the seed store, and been subsequently swept up. The minute seed of the foxglove, too, had doubtless thus also been shovelled into the sacks. For ten or fifteen years, at any rate, before crested dog's-tail was purposely sown on the run, a few plants of this grass were always to be seen in Stuart's Paddock; vetch and foxglove flourish to this day in the Black Stag country, then included in Stuart's Paddock.1
Basil Thyme.

Basil Thyme.

The sowing of the “Second Range” gave us basil thyme (Calamintha acinos), hop-clover (Trifolium procumbens), and meadow or “giant” fescue (Festuca elatior). The first-named has remained always on the original spot of its appearance, but though thus stationary has managed to survive the smothering of bracken and subsequent fires, as described in the shrinkage and expansion of open land. Hop-clover has never appeared happy on Tutira. After a struggle for two or three seasons it disappeared from the original site, and though renewed from time to time by later arrivals the plant has never managed to hold out for long. Meadow or “giant” fescue, as it is often called in Hawke's Bay, was for long represented on the run by a single plant, near the crossing of “Smother” creek. This grass, both the typical form and a German sub-species, was at a later date purposely sown, but without success. The soils of central Tutira do not suit a plant which has become a curse to the alluvial lands of the Province.

White Lychnis.

White Lychnis.

The ploughing of forty acres of alluvial land on Kahikanui Swamp

1 We had bought from Mr Fred Fulton, besides tailings and sweepings, £100 worth of hulled fog. The fact has always remained in my mind because of the visit paid to us on that occasion. No doubt he had been informed that we were just about bankrupt, which indeed was the case, and had ridden up to see about payment. His relief, I have often thought, must almost have equalled ours when he got the cash. These were the times of touch-and-go, when we were never quite sure that any considerable cheque would be honoured.

page 254 introduced four new aliens. With the crop itself appeared wild oats (Avena fatua), a single plant of white lychnis (Lychnis vespertina), and stork's-bill (Erodium sicutarium) in abundance. Later, when the paddock was shut up for a crop of ryegrass seed, there appeared a few plants of meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis). At a later date this valuable fodder-plant, purposely sown on the same piece of land, failed utterly. It failed again when sown in 1902 on one of the trial plots of the experimental farm.

The sowing of Kahikanui Hill paddock was responsible for the appearance of ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), a plant unpalatable to cattle only, and which has therefore never spread on lands devoted almost exclusively to sheep.

Corn thistle (Cnicus arvensis), in New Zealand rechristened Californian or Canadian thistle, was first detected by me on Putorino, having arrived either in badly dressed seed oats or in oaten chaff fed to the plough team. It appeared after the laying down of a small field near the homestead.

Cnicus arvenis is in New Zealand amongst the weeds prescribed by law, weeds for which the owner of the ground upon which they appear, even to the roadsides, is made responsible. As, however, in the early days of Canterbury settlement, the attempt to deal with another thistle (Cnicus lanceolatus) failed, so in later days the effort to cope with the corn thistle has broken down. A few Hawke's Bay landowners have been prosecuted, a certain amount of thistle-cutting has been done in a half-hearted and perfunctory manner—sufficient, in fact, to satisfy the local inspector of noxious weeds.

Country settlers in truth have a pretty good idea of what can and what cannot be done in practice. They knew in this instance that on Government and native lands, unstocked and untenanted, the thistle was spreading unchecked. They knew, moreover, that though here and there in arable areas inspection was stern and severe, yet that elsewhere its presence was winked at. The fact is that all the King's horses and all the King's men cannot catch up a weed that has obtained a start. No action is ever taken in time; to begin with, the new plant is not noticed in its unit stage; when it numbers hundreds a few of the more observant settlers become interested; when thousands appear it is talked of as a new-comer; only when the hundred thousand phase is past, when the plant has been carried or blown abroad to every corner of page 255 every province in New Zealand, is legislation attempted. Thus at a date when Hawke's Bay settlers were being compelled to cut Californian thistle, I noticed elsewhere, in a district from which large consignments of oats and oaten chaff were forwarded over the whole colony, three different oat-fields of from ten to fifteen acres each heavily infested with patches of corn thistle in full bloom. Small holdings, thorough tillage, not legislation, are the cure for undesirable aliens.

Viscid Bartsia.

Viscid Bartsia.

The surface sowing of felled forest-land on the distant Maungaharuru block introduced viscid Bartsia (Bartsia viscosa), the grass seed amongst which this stowaway reached the run having been drayed to the station. Had it been packed, the chances are that the weed would have been first noticed between Tangoio and the Tutira wool-shed, whereas I did not pick up the line of the blossoming plant until near “The Dome.” It told a story easily decipherable. Near that hill during the previous autumn a pack-load had evidently been ripped; between the spot where I first detected the plant and the boundary gate separating Putorino and Tutira, seed had been jogged out in considerable quantity. After the boundary gate the plant altogether ceased. There, where the horses had been stopped, the packman had doubtless noticed the rent, and stuffed or plugged it. No more specimens at any rate appeared, until three miles farther on, when the fallen bush was reached; there once again I found the new-comer sown inadvertently, flourishing in profusion, sharing the soil with its rightful owners—purposely imported plants, like rye, clover, and cock's-foot.

Corn Cockle.

Corn Cockle.

In 1910, when about to handle the arid centre of the run, four new stowaways appeared on my experimental plots for dry country fodder-plants—corn-cockle (Lychnis githago), sheep's-bit (Jasione montana), page 256 bladder campion (Silene inflata), and woolly thistle (Cnicus eriophorus). Besides the new-comers named, several other weeds had also managed to secrete themselves among the fodder-plants sown on the experimental farm; as, however, they had already reached the run at earlier dates and in other ways, they need not again be specified.

Undeniable as it is that too much dirty seed is each year placed on the market, yet the spread of weeds is inevitable. Greater care might at best stave off the evil hour of their arrival; no legislation can completely check their journeyings from spot to spot. Not only do they travel in the seed, they cling to the sacks themselves. In this way have arrived wheat (Triticum sativum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), turnip (Brassica napus), rape (Brassica rapa), white goose-foot (Chenopodium album), evening primrose (Œnothera oderata), small flowered buttercup (Ranunculus parviflorus), wood poa (Poa nemoralis), and parship (Peucedanum sativum) also, though it had already appeared and is mentioned elsewhere.

Bladder Campion.

Bladder Campion.

During the progress of contract work done at any considerable distance from the homestead—ploughing, fencing, grass-seed sowing, and draining—camps are established; about them rubbish accumulates in a marvellous way, the untidy premises soon becoming strewn with torn bags and littered with old filthy sacks, many of which conceal stowaways. Straggling plants of wheat, cape-barley, turnips, and rape, are nearly always to be found on such spots. Wheat and cape-barley have never been sown or used as horse-feed on Tutira,—they have arrived jammed in corners of sacks or tangled in interstices of their rough material. Oats, too, many times I have found on seed-sowers' camps, where the plant could not have been carried in by machinery or borne in the bodies of hard-fed horses. If the species named have thus reached the run, no doubt other weeds, especially crop weeds, are passed over the colony by rail, coach, and dray in surprisingly brief periods.

The average life of a sack is, I daresay, about five years, each sack in its time playing many parts.

Starting at the Bluff, the southernmost port of the South Island, a page 257 sack may only become finally useless in the far north of the North Island, having spread blights and noxious weeds from one end of the colony to the other. It may commence its career with all sorts of high ideals, with the determination to carry only Timaru wheat, Hawke's Bay ryegrass, and Akaro cock's-foot, but has in later life to abate the lofty pretensions of youth and ultimately to submit to the carriage of ordinary grain, ordinary ryegrass, and ordinary cock's-foot. Later, still whole and presentable, our bag will be considered fit for tailings and oaten chaff. It will now perhaps cross Cook's Strait and be passed about a farming district bearing perhaps in one short jolt apples, in another onions, becoming at each trip more stained with rain and marked with mud. It is now filled with potatoes—another downward stage—and forwarded to Auckland. By this time ragged, rent, disreputable, with senses blunted in regard to weed-carriage, it may reach some struggling settler's little home in the roadless north; there, with no pride left, it will cover a bee-hive, roof a leaky hen-coop, or in a buggy act as mat for dirty boots. Lastly, the poor creature takes to drink, and hangs in a besotted state about a native settlement. There, utterly degraded, it may serve as a saddle-cloth to some galled Maori hack, and ultimately dropped, hatch out some long-secreted weed, that like a wicked action comes to light at last. It is not very often that a stowaway is thus caught redhanded emerging from his hiding-place; yet white goose-foot (Chenopodium album) was seized by me in the very act, a magnificent specimen, his great roots embedded in a rotten sack, one of many strewn about the site of a Maori drainer's camp.1

White Goose-foot.

White Goose-foot.

Evening primrose (Œnothera odorata) has always been a fairly common plant between Napier and Petane, and between Petane and the coastal hills; yet this Patagonian would, I believe, never have made unassisted the inland journey necessary to reach Tutira. It appeared about a plough camp, a plant here and a plant there, on the site of the tents

1 Dr H. A. Gleason, of New York Botanical Gardens, Bronx Park, tells me that the seed of Chenopodium album has been found in the dwellings of prehistoric man in Europe. Then, apparently, as now, the plant was parasitic to man, since it only grows on tilled lands,—surely an extraordinarily interesting glimpse into the long life-history of a weed.

page 258 of contractors whose last work had been done on a coastal run. Away from the warmth of the coast this yellow evening primrose is unable to perpetuate his race, and after a season or two dies off.

Along the grassy margin of the lake in hot weather the native shearers often prefer to live under canvas rather than stay in the permanent accommodation provided. It was on the vacated site of one of these temporary camping-grounds that Ranunculus parviflorus first appeared. This little buttercup I had known extremely plentiful about the Tangoio pa, whence came the shearers, but it had never appeared on the road; and as masses of it suddenly took possession of the tent sites, I have no doubt it must have arrived in the old sacks so often used by Maoris for saddle-cloths, sleeping-sheets, and other purposes.

Wood poa (Poa nemoralis) also first reached the run in sacking; I found it, at any rate, flourishing amongst old bags on the site of a deserted splitter's camp.

There yet remain for mention stowaways which have arrived in penny or sixpenny packets of flower and vegetable seeds; goose-grass (Galium aparine) thus hidden reached. Tutira in a packet of spinach seed. Wall mustard (Diplotaxis muralis) secreted itself amongst Virginian stock; yellow pimpernel (Lysamachia nemorum) smuggled itself on to the station in the company of verbena. A species of silene, of which I only got withered specimens impossible to identify, came up in Harry Young's garden with mignonette seed.

With the recrudescence in recent years of white clover owing to ploughing and manures, bee-keeping has been again revived on the station. In 1913, opening a box from Rouen, France, I found imbedded in the artificial wax a single plump sunflower seed. The stowaway was planted, guarded with special care from slugs and snails, and eventually matured into a magnificent ten-foot specimen with a head of great circumference. Though doubtless unable without assistance to have reproduced itself, and therefore, perhaps, not to be properly included amongst acclimatised aliens, it is yet a good example of the strange manner in which seeds pass from land to land. Its arrival at any rate corroborates what has been said before, that no new phase of station work can be undertaken without the appearance of a corresponding flora.