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

The illustrations

The illustrations

The firm of A. D. Willis, publishers and printers of Field's Ferns, had a high reputation, both for the quality of their letterpress and for their lithography, especially chromolithography. It was an enterprising firm, whose postcards featuring views of New Zealand cities, Christmas cards and playing cards were well known. A. D. Willis held a patent on a method for cutting circular-cornered playing cards, which were sold for a shilling a pack and were "equal to any imported" and considerably cheaper because of high duty on English cards.

Plate 40 Doodia, Lastreopsis, Nephrolepis, Botrychium and Hymenophyllum

1.     Doodia media is a common fern found on dry banks in clearings and forest margins in lowland parts of the northern North Island. It is uncommon south of Rotorua but does reach Nelson and Marlborough. Young leaves are a characteristic rosy-pink colour. This species occurs also on Norfolk Island and Pacific Islands as far east as Hawaii.

2.     Lastreopsis (Ctenitis) velutina lives in lowland forests in the North and South Islands but is uncommon near its southern limits. The fronds, especially the stipes, are covered with red-brown hairs. In Field's book the plant is named as Nephrodium velutinum.

3.     Nephrolepsis cordifolia, known as "ladder fern" or "sword fern", is restricted in New Zealand to thermal areas in the Rotorua-Taupo district, but occurs also on the Kermadec Islands and in many tropical regions.

4.     Doodia caudata grows in Australia and discontinously in the North Island of New Zealand from Kaitaia southwards.

5.   5A. Botrychium australe (Botrychium ternatum in Field's Ferns), the "parsley fern", is scattered throughout the North and South Islands and usually grows in lowland to montane forest margins and clearings. Although it may seem, from the illustration, that there are separate vegetative (5) and reproductive (5A) leaves, both appendages are generally considered to be morphologically part of a single leaf. Botrychium belongs to a group, the Ophioglossales, that is believed to be rather distinct and more primitive than "higher" ferns.

6.     Hymenophyllum pulcherrimum. The specific name of this species of filmy fern means "most beautiful". A small, tufted fern with leaves up to twenty-five centimetres or more long, it occurs mostly on tree tunks in lowland to montane forest. Hymenophyllum pulcherrimum is found in the North Island (south of Auckland), South Island, Stewart Island and the Auckland Islands.

In this Plate the plants are shown two-thirds their natural size.

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Plate 40 Doodia media R. Br.; Lastreopsis velntina (A. Rich.) Tindale; Nephrolepis cordifolia (L.) Presl; Doodia caudata (Cav.) R. Br.; Botrychium australe R. Br.; Hymenophyllum pulcherrimum Col. Henry Field

Plate 40 Doodia media R. Br.; Lastreopsis velntina (A. Rich.) Tindale; Nephrolepis cordifolia (L.) Presl; Doodia caudata (Cav.) R. Br.; Botrychium australe R. Br.; Hymenophyllum pulcherrimum Col. Henry Field

page 114

Archibald Willis had, like Emily Harris and Georgina Hetley, exhibited at the New Zealand Industrial Exhibition (Wellington, 1885) and received the silver medal for chromolithographic printing. Dr T. M. Hocken, well-known surgeon, ethnologist, historian, bibliographer and founder of the Hocken Library, Dunedin, visited Wanganui in 1889 and toured Willis's establishment, which had approximately twenty-six employees. He expressed surprise and pleasure "at the perfection of Mr Willis's plant and apparatus for lithographic printing".

The lithographs for Field's Ferns were probably made by William ("Billy") Potts, a highly skilled technician whom Willis brought to New Zealand, probably in 1881, and who worked for him for nearly twenty years. Potts was a quiet retiring bachelor who lived in lodgings and took little part in community affairs.

The ferns illustrated do not follow the same order as they do in the text. Henry Field had hoped to use chromolithography "to print the ferns in their natural colours, and they were arranged according to those colours". This would have made the book "too costly for ordinary readers" and he had to be content with "a style of lithography which, though new and of a high class character, is less expensive".

As Plates 39 and 40 demonstrate, the lithographs are unusual and more elaborate than normal monochrome ones. The first step in printing each plate was to give it a light buff-grey background colour, commonly used in chromolithography. Two other colours — medium grey for the bulk of each fern and dark grey for arrangement of sporangia, veins, and so on — were then printed over the background colour. Microscopic examination of the plates shows that the dark grey is overprinted on the medium grey. A separate stone was probably needed for each of these colours. In some plates (Plate 40, 5A) a third colour, medium brown, was used to highlight a small part of the illustration. This colour was printed before the greys. Such a form of lithography certainly has some of the virtues of chromolithography, but at a lower cost. The first of the twenty-nine plates has thirty-four figures, illustrating the different types of fructifications (sporangia and their arrangement) in the ferns.