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

XIV — Thomas Kirk's Forest Flora of New Zealand

page 115

Thomas Kirk's Forest Flora of New Zealand

This book, commissioned by the New Zealand Government, was published in l889. It contains 159 lithographic plates, of which seven are from photos, and illustrates 108 currently recognised species of trees and shrubs, including conifers. A good feature of the book is that any distinctive juvenile forms are illustrated. Most plants are depicted their natural size, but enlarged figures of flowers and fruits are frequently included. A less attractive feature is that "no attempt was made to arrange the species in systematic order", as it was intended that the work would be published in parts.

The plants chosen were all of economic or potentially economic value. Kirk's text describes each plant, its cultivation, properties, uses and distribution, and comments on each plate. His style of writing is superb, and the book makes fascinating reading, especially in its historical detail. One reads, for instance, that the heartwood of ake-ake (Dodonaea viscosa) is so tough that it was used, with good results, as a substitute for brass in machine bearings.

At least one copy of Forest Flora has (hand) coloured plates, and this is in the Turnbull Library, Wellington. Forest Flora sold for twelve shillings and sixpence, "in order to bring this valuable work within the reach of all" (George Didsbury, Government Printer).

Thomas Kirk's life

As Thomas Cheeseman and Leonard Cockayne noted, Thomas Kirk (1828-98) was New Zealand's most important botanist in the decades following publication of Joseph D. Hooker's Handbook of the New Zealand Flora (1864-7). He wrote some 150 papers on the New Zealand flora, most published in Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. Thomas Kirk was born in Coventry (18 January 1828). He received no official schooling but was well educated by his parents. He worked first in the family nursery and landscaping business. His great interest in natural science was fostered at an early age, and his first paper, on ferns, was published when he was nineteen. At twenty-two he married and on the death of his father managed the page 116 nursery business for a time. However, the hard work involved affected his health and he developed a permanent chest weakness, possibly tuberculosis. He therefore sought less physically demanding work and became bookkeeper, and in time partner, at Newark's, a large timber mill in Coventry. Continuing health problems and hard economic times persuaded him to emigrate to New Zealand with his wife and their four children in 1862.

On arriving in Auckland, his first employment was, it seems, breaking rocks at Mount Eden, hardly an ideal way to recover from the effects of acute seasickness. He then became a timber merchant in Auckland. Soon after arriving, he began his botanical explorations. In 1866, with Frederick Hutton, a trained geologist and later professor of biology at Canterbury University College, he explored Little Barrier and Great Barrier Islands. Their suggestion that Little Barrier Island be made a plant and animal sanctuary produced no immediate results. In 1868, on the recommendation of Hutton, Thomas Kirk became curator and secretary of the Auckland Institute and Museum, and was also in charge of the Meteorological Observatory. During this time he explored much of the North Island and published descriptions of new plant species. Today, some 200 of the names he gave to what he considered to be new species are still valid (Moore, 1973).

As a former timber merchant, Kirk deplored the "wantonness" whereby best-quality timber such as kauri (Agathis australis) was used "for purposes that would be equally well served by timber of an inferior quality". He drew attention to trees like rewarewa (Knightia excelsa), which were left to rot when forest was cleared for farmland because they were too perishable for external timber and "difficult of combustion" for firewood. Yet such timber, with its attractive and unusual grain, would, he noted, yield a handsome profit if exported to England for cabinetmaking.

In 1874 Kirk was appointed professor of natural sciences at Wellington College (affiliated with the University of New Zealand). He later became a lecturer in biology and geology at Lincoln Agricultural College. While in Wellington, the Kirks lived in a small cottage in Tinakori Road, directly opposite the residence of the Premier, Julius Vogel. The cottage had no water laid on, and Thomas Kirk took the opportunity to discuss his ideas with the Premier when obtaining water from the Vogel residence. A result of this contact was the passing of the first New Zealand Forests Act (1874). Unfortunately, however, there were loopholes in the Act, and destruction of the forest continued. The second Forests Act of 1885, which was preceded by a report commissioned from Thomas Kirk, resulted in the setting aside of areas as state forest land under skilled management and control. The Act also provided for establishment of a school of forestry and agriculture. In that year Kirk was appointed chief conservator of forests in the newly formed forest and agriculture branch of the Lands Department. Within two years Kirk had some 800,000 acres proclaimed forest reserves. As chief conservator of forests he emphasised the increased employment and revenue that could be gained by the production of secondary forest products and deplored page 117 the current practice "to export kauri resin to the United States and import it in the form of varnish, paying outward and inward freights, with the addition of a heavy duty, and allowing another country the profit arising from the manufacture". Plans were made to establish a school of forestry, pomology and agriculture in Whangarei, but with the defeat of the Stout-Vogel Government in 1887, the new Atkinson Government cancelled these plans. Kirk pleaded vigorously and argued that it was sound economic sense to retain the forest and agriculture branch. However, his argument was unsuccessful and the branch was disbanded. The Government's cost-cutting measures included the compulsory retirement of Kirk, aged sixty, at the end of February 1888. He was employed for a further three months to complete the Forest Flora, but in fact the task took an additional nine months. An application for the extra salary (£300) gained Kirk only £100, leaving him out of pocket. From then on the Kirks led a "hand-to-mouth" existence.

In 1894 Kirk was commissioned by the Government to write a student's flora of New Zealand, which was to include all higher plants, rather than the common trees and shrubs covered in the Forest Flora. Work on this was incomplete when Thomas Kirk died, as the result of a burst pleural abscess, at Plimmerton on 8 March 1898. He was buried in a now-unmarked grave in Karori Cemetery, Wellington. The Students' Flora of New Zealand and the Outlying Islands was published in 1899. It deals with most but not all dicotyledonous groups of flowering plants and includes plants from overseas that have become naturalised, for example, clovers (Trifolium species). Conifers and monocotyledonous plants (grasses, orchids, etc.) are not included. An anonymous "Introductory Notice" in the book, from the Education Department, Wellington, stated: "The Government have in view the necessity for making arrangements for the completion of the work". A separate volume of illustrations was planned too, using the unpublished engraved copper plates that resulted from Cook's first voyage. These were to be supplemented by republishing plates from Sir Joseph Hooker's Flora Antarctica, Flora Novae Zelandiae and Flora Tasmaniae, but none of these plans materialised.

Thomas and Sarah Kirk had nine children, of whom five survived to adulthood. Kirk's two sons also had biological interests. Thomas William Kirk became head of the biological and horticultural divisions of the Department of Agriculture, and Harry Borrer Kirk was appointed the first professor of biology at Victoria University College (now Victoria University of Wellington) in 1903, retiring in 1944 at the age of 85!

Forest Flora illustrations

Although Thomas Kirk did not personally prepare any illustrations for the Forest Flora, they were made under his supervision. He stated in the preface that most "of the drawings were made by draughtsmen of the Survey Department and a few by Mr D. Blair and Mr A. Hamilton". The draughtsmen received scant recognition for their work, as their names were not page 118 mentioned by Kirk, but most of the illustrations are signed. It was an understatement that "a few" drawings were by Blair and Hamilton, for together they contributed twenty-six plates and, judging by their style, some of the unsigned ones are by Hamilton too. Kirk noted that as some of the plates were drawn "during the absence of the author from Wellington a few slight errors have crept into the works, but happily they are not of sufficient importance to cause inconvenience".

Two members of the Survey Department, Hugh McKean and Hugh Boscawen, each contributed thirty-eight signed illustrations, totalling exactly half of the plates. Other contributors were E. J. Graham (twenty-nine plates) and W. de R. Barclay (one plate). Of the twenty unsigned plates, most seem to be the work of Boscawen or Hamilton.

As one would anticipate with so many illustrators, the quality of the work is uneven. This unevenness can sometimes be found in the work of individual illustrators, especially McKean and Graham. The most outstanding plates are those by Boscawen and Blair. Hugh Boscawen used heavy shading to good effect (Plate 42). The best drawings by E. J. Graham are almost on a par with the best of Boscawen and Blair. In some illustrations Graham seems clearly to be influenced by the distinctive style of Boscawen. In fact, one Plate illustrating the wharangi (Melicope ternata) contains drawings by Boscawen and Graham that, in the absence of signatures, one would assume to be the work of a single artist. Hugh McKean's illustrations do not attain quite the standard of these three illustrators, but overall his drawings are very good, if at times somewhat "mechanical". A. Hamilton's drawings are generally less detailed and not as good as the others. Judging by the "del et lith" on some plates and the fact that Blair, Boscawen and Graham prepared lithographs from photographs taken by professional photographers, it seems that each illustrator prepared his own lithographs.

David Blair, a Scotsman, came to New Zealand in 1881 and was the first master of the Canterbury School of Art. He resigned from this position in 1886 and moved to Wanganui.

John Hugh Boscawen (1851-1937) was born in Cornwall. He entered the Royal Navy and visited New Zealand in 1869-70 on the Britannia, a training ship. After leaving the navy, Boscawen came back to New Zealand in 1876 and joined the Survey Department, in time becoming chief clerk. He retired in 1919 and returned to Cornwall.

Augustus Hamilton (1853?-1913) was born in Dorset and arrived in New Zealand in 1875. He taught at schools in several districts before becoming registrar of Otago University in 1900. He was a keen botanist, zoologist, geologist and ethnologist, and wrote many articles for the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. In 1903 he succeeded Sir James Hector as director of what is now the National Museum, Wellington.

It has not been possible to find biographical details of other Forest Flora illustrators.

page 119

Plate 41 Coprosma repens (taupata)

This common coastal plant is named as Coprosma baueriana in Forest Flora. The species name repens meaning "creeping" is something of a misnomer. It received the name because it was described from a collection made by the French expedition of Dumont d'Urville in 1827, who found a prostrate form of taupata clinging to coastal rocks. It varies, depending largely on habitat, from a shrub to a tree up to eight metres high. There are separate male and female flowers, which are usually borne on different plants. The ripe "berries" (drupes) are orange-red and up to one centimetre in diameter. Taupata occurs in coastal regions of the North Island and as far south as Banks Peninsula in the South Island, and on Three Kings and Kermadec Islands. Blair's illustration (from which rather distracting magnified drawings of flowers and fruits have been deleted) shows foliage with female (1) and male flowers and young flower buds (2). He has, with the minimum of shading, shown nicely the convexity of upper leaf surfaces. A characteristic feature of Coprosma (and some other unrelated native plant genera) not shown in the illustrations, although they would have been clearly visible, are leaf domatia. These are small pits, of unknown function, opening on the underside of the leaves. The opening to each domatium is located in the acute angle formed above the junction of the mid-rib and a lateral vein. Taupata is a popular hedge plant in coastal areas.

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Plate 41 Coprosma repens A. Rich, (taupata) David Blair (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 41 Coprosma repens A. Rich, (taupata) David Blair (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 42 Agathis australis (kauri)

The kauri is named as Dammara australis in Forest Flora. Hugh Boscawen's illustrations show foliage and two immature (top) and mature female cones. Kauri, the largest tree in the New Zealand flora, occurs naturally in the north of the North Island, with its southern limits near Kawhia and Tauranga.

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Plate 42 Agathis australis Salisb. (kauri) Hugh Boscawen (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 42 Agathis australis Salisb. (kauri) Hugh Boscawen (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 43 Podocarpus ferrugineus (miro)

The illustrations shows male cones (1) and female fructifications (2). An unattractive feature of this plate, which occurs in some of E. J. Graham's other ones, is that in parts (for example, upper left) background stippling is used instead of showing leaves that are partly obscured by leaves lying above. Miro is a widely distributed lowland forest tree, up to thirty metres in height, occurring throughout North, South and Stewart Islands. Some authorities consider that Prumnopitys ferruginea is the valid name for the miro.

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Plate 43 Podocarpus ferrugineus G. Benn. ex D. Don. E. J. Graham (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 43 Podocarpus ferrugineus G. Benn. ex D. Don. E. J. Graham (in Kirk's Forest Flora)

Plate 44 Geum uniflorum

The plant shown was collected from the mountains above Arthur's Pass, Canterbury, at 1,200 metres. A member of the rose family (Rosaceae), Geum uniflorum is confined to alpine regions of the South Island from the Nelson district southwards at altitudes of 900 to 1,700 metres. Professor W. R. Philipson {Rock Garden Plants of the Southern Alps, 1962) considered it among the best alpine plants we have to offer. It flourishes in wet habitats — peaty herbfields and damp rocky ledges. It has creeping stems that end in a rosette of leaves with hairy margins. The leaves are a glossy green when young and often turn a deep crimson as they age. Each flower is borne singly on a long stalk and has white petals, red stamens and a crimson mass of carpels in the centre.

Figure 1, petal (x2); figures 2 and 3 are internal and external views of a stamen (x6); figure 4, a carpel (x6); figure 5, side view of a flower after the petals have fallen (x2); figure 6, a fruit (x8) and figure 7, a longitudinally halved fruit, showing the single, basally attached seed within (x8).

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Plate 44 Geum uniflorum Buchan. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 44 Geum uniflorum Buchan. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

page 120

Plate 45 Pachystegia insignis (Marlborough rock daisy)

At the time of the Illustrations, this shrub was known as Olearia insignis. The name was changed to Pachystegia by Cheeseman when he prepared the second edition of Manual of the New Zealand Flora. Pachystegia means "thick covering" and refers to the large number of regularly arranged bracts that clothe the bud (shown at centre). It is one of our most attractive shrubs and is widely cultivated. It is restricted to the northeast of the South Island from the Wairau River in Marlborough to Waiau in Canterbury. Although Pachystegia is common on limestone cliffs in the Kaikoura region, it also occurs inland. Recent work has indicated that there are at least six different forms of Pachystegia, and further studies may result in several species being recognised. Pachystegia reaches two metres in height.

An unusual feature of this plate is the inclusion of a sketch of an entire plant, made from a photograph Cheeseman sent to Matilda Smith. The specimen was obtained from the Awatere Valley, Marlborough. Leaves are leathery, glossy, dark-green above and white below. Each "flower", as in all Compositae, is actually an aggregation of many flowers (florets). The "flowers" have white spreading rays, forming large outer petals around a yellow centre.

Figure 1, outer ray floret (x3); figure 2, a more central disc floret (x3); figures 3 and 4, a pappus hair from the outside of a ray floret and a disc floret, respectively; figure 5, three stamens (x8); figure 6, stigmatic region to which pollen adheres at the centre of each floret (x8); and figure 7, a young plant, reduced from a photograph.

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Plate 45 Pachystegia insignis (Hook, f.) Cheesem. (Marlborough rock daisy) Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 45 Pachystegia insignis (Hook, f.) Cheesem. (Marlborough rock daisy) Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 46 Celmisia hectori (alpine daisy)

This plant is confined to alpine regions (1,300 to 2,000 metres in altitude) of the southern half of the South Island. The prostrate stems branch profusely and bend upwards to end in tight masses of densely hairy leaves, silver above and whitish below. A single plant can be a metre or more in diameter. The "flowers" resemble Pachystegia in having white petals and a yellow centre. The Plate is a fine example of the lithographer's skill. Flowers and lowermost leaves have been given a bolder outline to emphasise the fine hairy upper leaves and flower stalks.

Figure 1, bract from underneath the "flower" (x3); figure 2, an outer ray floret (x3); figure 3, a pappus hair from the outside of a ray floret (enlarged considerably from figure 2 but magnification not stated); figures 4 and 5, disc florets (x3, x4); figure 6, three stamens; figure 7, stigmatic region from the centre of a floret (x8). The specimen was obtained from Mt Ollivier, in the Mt Cook district, at an altitude of 1,800 metres.

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Plate 46 Celmisia hectori Hook. f. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 46 Celmisia hectori Hook. f. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 47 Dracophyllum recurvum

There are thirty-five native species of Dracophyllum, members of the Epacridaceae, related to the true heath family (Ericaceae). Dracophyllum recurvum is a low prostrate or semi-erect shrub, about a metre in diameter, with distinctive, recurved, bluish-green leaves, which are crowded at the tips of branches. Confined to the North Island in subalpine to alpine regions at 900 to 1,500 metres, it is particularly common in Tongariro National Park but occurs too on Mt Hikurangi and the Kaimanawa and Ruahine Ranges. The small white flowers are in groups of four to ten. Cheeseman obtained this specimen from the base of Mt Ruapehu at 1,050 metres.

Figure 1, leaf (x2); figure 2, flower (x5); figure 3, an internal view of an opened petal tube (corolla) to which the five stamens are attached (x5); figure 4, centre of flower with petals removed (x5); figure 5, one of the scales (nectary ?) that surround the ovary — see figure 4 — (x7); figure 6, a sectioned ovary showing how the ovules (potential seeds) are arranged like bunches of grapes (x5); figure 7, a ripe capsule, formed from the ovary (x5); figure 8, seed (x8).

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Plate 47 Dracophyllum recurvum Hook. f. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)

Plate 47 Dracophyllum recurvum Hook. f. Matilda Smith (in Cheeseman's Illustrations)