Title: Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Author: F. Bruce Sampson

Publication details: Reed Methuen, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: F. Bruce Sampson

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Field's Ferns of New Zealand

Field's Ferns of New Zealand

H. C. Field's The Ferns of New Zealand and its Immediate Dependencies with Directions for their Collection and Cultivation was printed and published by A.D. Willis, Wanganui, in 1890, in conjunction with Griffith, Farren, Okeden and Welsh of London and Sydney. It is of a larger format than Thomson's work and has 164 pages of text and twenty-nine plates. However, Thomson's book was more comprehensive, for it included fern allies, such as club-mosses (lycopods), water ferns and psilophytes. Field's Ferns described 138 species as well as a number of varieties, some of which are now recognised as separate species. All but six species are illustrated. The author recognised several new species but did not formally name them, simply citing the generic name, followed by "new species" (for example, "Pteris New species"). A few introduced species, which had been found growing wild, were included.

Henry Field was, in the introductory section of Ferns, critical of previous books on New Zealand ferns, noting, "a written description of a plant can hardly render it capable of identification by a non-scientific reader unless it is illustrated by a drawing." Thomson's book was, he conceded, the best page 111 book on the subject, but the plates "were only of portions of fronds, showing their fructification, and this seems to have been regarded as insufficient to enable identification of the plants. The price has now been lowered, and I learn that it is selling far better in consequence." The plates in Dobbie's New Zealand Ferns were "so roughly got up that few people seemed to care to buy them: in fact, as the fructification of the ferns was not shown, it would have been almost impossible to identify some of them."

Field's text is written in a clear style and has dated little. He has interesting things to say about what constitutes a fern, the parts of ferns, collecting, pressing and classifying them. A chapter on cultivation of ferns gives straightforward advice:

If you want to get a fern to grow, you must note the conditions under which it naturally occurs; and imitate these conditions as closely as you can . . . The best material in which to plant ordinary bush ferns is the mould formed by the utter decay of a large tree-stump. This is often to be met with in the bush, forming a mound, and is well worth the trouble of carrying it home. It is a good plan, in potting a fern brought from the bush, to cut away most of the fronds. This prevents the strength of the plant being exhausted, in the effort to keep the fronds alive, before the roots have got a proper hold of the soil, so as to draw nourishment from it; and when they have done so, fresh fronds will be produced . . . What most ferns want is an atmosphere so highly saturated with moisture that it will condense on their fronds like dew. Then they are in their glory ... A very cheap and yet effective fernery, however, may be constructed with walls of closely packed manuka-scrub, secured to a wooden framework and a roof of similar scrub, left sufficiently open to admit a moderate amount of light.

As one might anticipate, with such a small botanical community in New Zealand, people whose assistance Field acknowledged included Thomas Cheeseman, William Colenso, George Thomson and Thomas Kirk. An interesting reflection of prevailing ideas on the place of women in New Zealand society is seen in Field's acknowledgement of assistance from "several ladies in various parts of the colony who might not care to see their names in print".