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Chapter XXVIII. — Burdens of Sin

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Chapter XXVIII.
Burdens of Sin.

Another group of new-comers can quite well be pictured as having been dumped on Tutira—carried up, that is, and cast down as suddenly as Christian in Bunyan's allegory rids himself of his load. Many burdens of sin have thus on the station been dropped by many pilgrims, some of them living animals, some of them larger members of the vegetable kingdom itself, and some of them not living at all, insensate, inanimate, though endowed with motion. The larger have carried the lesser on their backs, in the manner that peasants in Egypt to this day account for the simultaneous yearly appearance of the stork and quail.

Aliens of this group caught in the very act, whose origins are known as positively as there can be certitude and finality in such matters at all, are given priority of place. Others there are about whose method of arrival the writer himself entertains no doubt, but regarding whose appearance innumerable details of likelihood, if given to prove the point, would too greatly cumber our story; others again there are which may have reached the run in one of many several ways. Sweet vernal-grass (Anthroxanthum odoratum), growing in '82 in close proximity to the cherry-grove near Craig's whare, was in all likelihood carried up in roots or earth adhering to them. Suckers had been taken by Craig from a long-established clump at Havelock North, a township within a short distance of light river-bed country scores of acres of which used to be densely covered with sweet vernal. For twenty years after my arrival, at any rate, sweet vernal was elsewhere unknown on the station.

Procumbent speedwell (Veronica agrestis) was carried up in soil attached to the roots of certain moss-roses planted immediately after completion of the original cottage in '83. To this day I think with page 276 pleasure of their blue blossoms flourishing splendidly on our first tiny ill-tended plot. The plant has never strayed far; it is a garden rather than a field species, and has for more than thirty years remained within a few dozen yards of the spot of its first appearance.

Seed of modiola (Modiola multifida), which I had long noted in Napier as a persistent garden weed, was brought up by Harry Young in a bundle of cabbages; at any rate, the plant appeared where they had been grown.

Pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) was introduced from Pouriri with water-lily roots which were sunk in the lake. They died, but for a season or two the pondweed flourished with the same exuberance of vitality as is shown by land plants enjoying their first taste of fresh soil.

Daphne from a Napier nursery carried up white dead - nettle (Lamium album). During one of the many alterations in shape, size, and locality of the station gardens, it managed to extend its range into the rose - beds. Later again, taking advantage of my absence during the war, it has still further enlarged its domain. In spite, or perhaps because of, thorough autumn forking, it survives through the persistent rooting of each broken fragment.

Lilium candidum, which used to grow with me over seven feet in height until disease seized upon the plant, brought up black bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus).

With bamboos from Sir William Russell's garden at Flaxmere appeared fumitory (Fumaria officinalis).

Pot-moss (Selaginella sp.), though but a very doubtful acclimatisation, appeared and spread for a single season where a pot of nerine bulbs had been sunk into the garden soil.

Twitch-grass (Agropyrum repens) was introduced in clumps of kniphofia bought from a Hastings nurseryman.

Portulaca (Portulaca oleracea) came up attached to a bulb of Lilium giganteum given me by the late J. N. Williams from his Frimley garden. Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) and field stachys (Stachys arvensis) were almost certainly attached to earth adhering to roots. They appeared, at any rate, immediately after the importation of a number of herbaceous plants from England.

Amaranth (Amarantus sp.) and lesser swine - cress (Senebiera didyma), I believe, reached Tutira with a consignment of fruit - trees for a new orchard.

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On the other hand, I have often been surprised at the non-arrival of plants. An introduction, for instance, of many score roses from Auckland, a source of weed-supply hitherto untapped, brought not a single new weed.

The earliest turf turned over in my day on Tutira, and devoted entirely to potatoes, produced none of the following plants: groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), chickweed (Stellaria media), pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa - pastoris), thyme - leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifoliam). They were not in the soil of Tutira in '82. When, however, we moved to the spot where the homestead and the garden were permanently established, when gooseberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, stone-fruit, apples and pears were planted, the above-mentioned aliens appeared one by one. There are, in fact, certain species that live particularly about gardens, garden-walks, and garden-bed edgings. Their tiny seeds in a score of ways reach the pockets, clothes, and boots of every labourer employed. He manures them when he dungs the ground, he plants them with his cabbages, he sinks them in his celery - trench, he forks them with his asparagus. They cling to his tools, his pea - stakes, his matting, his garden line. He mixes them in his potting-shed with shredded turf, with sand and leaf-mould. In a hundred ways they are disseminated. It is impossible for the best and most careful firms to forward only the plants ordered. All sorts of things are added gratis. I have received a Somersetshire worm with Kelway's delphiniums; with Mariposa tulips, even Barr & Sons have forwarded weeds.

Other plants in this list have arrived by other modes of transit, though always, like those already named, dumped down suddenly. The private taste of a maid has, for instance,—it is another example of what has been already noticed, that every episode in station life, even the most trifling and ephemeral, has been marked in weeds,—the private taste of a maid, I say, has been responsible for Setaria viridis, Panicum crusgalli, and canary-grass (Phalaris canariensis). These three plants appeared within a season or two of the arrival of her canaries. Before that they had not been seen. The last-named has extended its range; I have noticed it on ploughed ground across the lake. Setaria viridis and Panicum crusgalli have not, to my knowledge, yet strayed beyond the precincts of orchard and garden.

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Spurrey (Spergula arvensis) was dumped on Tutira by machinery. It first appeared directly beneath a second-hand hay-rake brought from Taradale and allowed to stand temporarily on newly-ploughed land. This particular settlement of spurrey, which must have reached its destination in clay glued to the machine, was destroyed. The plant has, nevertheless, elsewhere taken possession of soils suitable to its requirements. Probably in a second attempt it smuggled itself in as a stowaway.

Other pilgrims depositing burdens on the station have been animals. After the camping for a night in Whatley's Paddock of several hundred travelling cattle, Senecio cineraria appeared plentifully. Musk thistle (Carduus nutans), too, appeared where travelling cattle had stayed a night in another paddock, the “Twenty Acres.” There is the further evidence of the arrival of this plant in this particular way, that several head of the mob had been “dropped” by careless droving in the Natural Paddock and had found their way to the main camp, where in due time several colonies of Carduus nutans also appeared. The idea, by the bye, that donkeys only eat thistles, is quite erroneous, horses, cattle, and sheep alike being partial to the purple flower-heads.

Knot-grass (Polygonum aviculare) was first found in front of the stable doors; as I have elsewhere seen horses freely cropping the plant, it may have, in the first instance, been carried up and dumped down by a horse.

Clustered clover (Trifolium glomeratum) was brought up in the stomachs of stock borrowed from Mr Bernard Chambers. The plant, at any rate, had not previously been noted on the run, and did grow thickly on Te Mata, whence came the sheep.

Suffocated clover (Trifolium suffocatum) has also reached Tutira in this way, the plant appearing thickly on certain camps where there had been none previously.

A magnificent plant, milk-thistle (Silybum marianum), has spread from Arapawanui, where, according to the late John Mackinnon, it appeared in the early 'seventies. I believe it has been carried to Tutira by pig; at any rate it has been dumped down on the run where cattle and sheep at that date never fed, and years prior to the sowing of grass seed. The plant, furthermore, in its leafy prime, is too prickly page 279 to have been willingly touched by stock. During winter, however, when the vast foliage fails, it is not improbable that seeds may have been picked up by rooting wild pig and thus carried from spot to spot. The plant has a remarkable local history. It grew on Tutira in a locality where we had occasion to erect sheep-yards. These were not only used many times every season for drafting, docking, &c., but were built, besides, on a flat-topped ridge over which one shepherd or another rode weekly, or oftener.

Lastly, there was a spring in the immediate neighbourhood convenient at noon for boiling the billy which shepherds carry slung on their saddles. Traffic, in fact, on that ridge was continuous from one year's end to another. The original forty or fifty specimens of milk-thistle were spaded out—cut below the crown by myself; undoubtedly not a single plant was missed, for, apart from the fact that I would be careful in my own interest, the weed had elected to settle on a fertile sheep-camp, where the grass was closely nibbled, and where, because of the fertility of the soil, any specimen missed would have become in summer-time a plant five or six feet high, peculiarly apparent and conspicuous. Seedlings, nevertheless, appeared for twenty-five years on an area 30 feet by 60 feet—one season a rather less, another, a rather more, numerous germination taking place. Evidently the seeds possessed, like the units of egg-batches of certain moths, the property of hatching out at widely different intervals of time, thus ensuring a propitious period sooner or later.1

Milk Thistle.

Milk Thistle.

The daisy (Bellis perennis) merits mention not only on account of its manner of arrival, but because the plant has proved quite exceptional in its rate of spread. Unlike the majority of aliens, it has increased slowly, even on soils afterwards found to be entirely suitable. Locally page 280 the daisy is still, indeed, almost unknown outside its original spot of deposition—the Home Paddock. Whilst still a rare weed elsewhere in the province,—I remember its absence in the 'eighties from the beautiful tennis lawns of southern Hawke's Bay,—it was plentiful near the original Tangoio wool-shed and drafting-yards. The daisy reached Tutira in the following way: During the 'eighties our station stores were drayed to the Tangoio wool-shed, and there deposited until such time as called for by the pack-team, which was penned in one of the yards, the horses being led forth and loaded one by one. Easily balanced cargo, such as flour and sugar, was disposed of first, odds and ends, small parcels, &c., were reserved for the “last” horse, an imperturbable beast treating shouts and stock-whip crackings alike with bovine indifference. These odds and ends were not infrequently placed in sacks, slung directly from the iron hooks of the pack-saddles, and therefore, if properly balanced and firmly fixed with surcingle, secure from the chances and changes of jostle, jog, trot and canter, over miles of execrable going. On the particular occasion to which I refer, the load of this “last” horse was badly balanced. To right the equilibrium I remember hastily spading up two or three divots from the turf of the paddock and flinging them as ballast into the mouth of the lighter sack. Upon arrival at Tutira its contents, parcels and earth alike, were tipped on to the ground nearly opposite the front gate of our newly-finished cottage, and there the daisy first appeared on Tutira. Though, however, thus established, the increase of the plant was extra-ordinarily, exceptionally slow. It seemed as though the daisy, almost alone among aliens, had been unable to devise methods of dissemination, or perhaps that the plants which ultimately flourished were variants from the type, more exactly suited to novel environment. Fully fifteen years passed before the few acres about the house were overrun; then the multitude of expanded blossoms was a marvel; nowhere else have I seen such an exuberance of bloom: in spring sunshine the paddock lay white as if under snow.

Prickly burr (Acœna ovina) was well established in the paddocks near the wool-shed prior to my time. Although sheep will crop the leaves and tender seed-stems, they are left untouched when tough and stiff. It is likely, therefore, that this very early arrival may have been carried up in the wool of early imported merino sheep.

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Two plants yet remain which probably owe their transportation to a very intimate relationship with other members of their own kingdom. One is lesser dodder (Cuscuta epithymum), a single small specimen of which I first discovered growing on mint (Mentha viridis) in Peras Swamp. Afterwards the plant made, I believe, an independent second appearance in the homestead paddocks, where there are now established large circles of dodder amongst the red clover crops. The other parasite is broom - rape (Orobanche minor), a single specimen of which was first seen on the turf of the home paddock, where it appeared to be attached to the roots of cat's - ear (Hypochœris radicata). Several years later it also appeared plentifully amongst red clover.



1 It came during the great war, whilst the station was depleted of its men; specimens then not only seeded on the original site, but spread elsewhere; I notice the alien greenfinch seems now to be feeding on the seeds.