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Flora of NZ, Vol. 4BOOK REVIEWS

Flora of New Zealand, Volume 4
Naturalised pteridophytes, gymnosperms, dicotyledons


By C. J. Webb, W. R. Sykes, and P. J. Garnock-Jones
Published by
Botany Division, DSIR, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1988
$NZ82.00

Reviewed by Eric Godley AHRIH

Over recent decades we have been fortunate in the regular appearance of volumes of the "Flora of New Zealand". From the 1960's to the 1980's there have been two on desmids, one on lichens, and four on pteridophytes and/or seed-plants, whether native or introduced. Seven volumes is almost as many as were published in all the previous history of botany in New Zealand. But although a Flora is not now a rare event, each one is still a milestone in the history of New Zealand science; and the present volume is no exception. It deals with 1470 species of naturalised ferns and naturalised dicotyledonous flowering plants. It describes them, gives information about their history and distribution in the country, and shows how to differentiate them one from another in keys and illustrations. It is the first time that there has been a Flora of these plants since H. H. Allan's "Handbook of the naturalised flora of New Zealand" in 1940.

This book is of course essential for anyone working on naturalised plants, whether in town or country, gardens, parks, reserves, roadsides, fresh waters, river beds, dairy pastures, high country runs, and so on. But it is also a contribution to our knowledge of native plants and is necessary for students of them. If a genus includes both naturalised and native species (such as Senecio), then all the species are described. Of the 397 native species involved many are described only briefly because they have been satisfactorily treated in earlier volumes, but others are more extensively dealt with and much new information is given about them. As examples one notes the revised treatment of Acaena contributed by Bryony Macmillan, or the wise reduction by Colin Webb of the five species of Cassinia recognised in Allan's Flora to one variable species, Cassinia leptophylla. Gunnera is also well pruned.

Any keys which I have tried have worked well, and the comments after the species descriptions are useful and interesting. In the large Families such as the Rosaceae the synopsis showing sub-families and the introduced genera belonging to each is most instructive. And I was glad to find the Families arranged in alphabetical order. After all, the book is to help identification, not to demonstrate some phylogenetic system by using only a selection of the Families. The black-and-white drawings (contributed by five artists) and the coloured plates are usefully designed to show differences between related species.

The list of names of the authors of species with their standard abbreviations is useful to have, but even more useful would be a note on the derivation of each generic name. Most of us parrot these off without knowing what they mean, although the name often gives a clue to some outstanding character of the genus or is of historical or literary interest. But if derivations are given it is essential to go back to the original description to find out the intention of the creator of the genus. Guessing is no good, however formidable the scholarship. Thus, since the Flora Novae-Zelandiae, the derivation of Olearia has been given by New Zealand authors (including Wall and Allan) as some variant of Hooker's "from Olea, an olive-tree, which some species resemble." The latest variant is: "the Olearia tree daisies take their very name from their tomentum — Olea is the genus of the olive, which has silvery tomentum on the underside of its leaves" (New Zealand's Alpine Plants, inside and out, by Bill and Nancy Malcolm). Yet if Hooker had looked up Moench's original description he would have read: "In memoriam. Joannis Gotbofredi Olearii, auctoris -" etc. etc. In other words the genus Olearia commemorates a man called Johann Gottfried Oelschlaeger whose account of the plants of Halle appeared in 1668 and who was known as Olearius because his name means "oil-presser".

The expense of writing this work has been borne by the Dept. of Scientific and Industrial Research — the salaries, the typing, the accommodation. But then it looked as if this good ship was going to be spoilt for the proverbial ha'porth of tar. There was no money for publication. The situation was saved by a grant in liberal terms from the Miss E. L. Hellaby Indigenous Grasslands Research Trust. Miss Hellaby was one of the three children of the founder of the Meat Company based in Auckland, and her personal fortune is the basis of the Trust named after her.

With this volume and a good hand lens a sizeable chunk of The Plant Kingdom is waiting to be explored. Nor does one have to go to the headwaters of the Motu or the steppes of Central Otago to do it. And if we think that we know all about the weeds under our hedge or on the nearest vacant section this book will show how wrong we are. And it will also introduce us to a most interesting group of plants, some benevolent, some malevolent, but all long-distance travellers, colonists, and survivors, just like the people who brought them here. For I must emphasise that this work represents much more than just a book about weeds. It is a record of one of the most significant periods in the history of the vegetation and flora of New Zealand. For millions of years the plants colonising the New Zealand region came over the land. Then, as New Zealand became isolated, the plants came over the sea by the agency of wind, currents, and birds, and this still continues. But over the last few hundred years and particularly the last two hundred a whole new flora has colonised New Zealand. This was due to the activities of another species, Homo sapiens, the most efficient plant disperser of the whole Animal Kingdom. Elsewhere I have called this the Cookian period because almost all these introductions by man directly or indirectly have occurred since Cook's voyages. Volume 4 then, deals with anthropophytes using that term in a wide sense.

Colin Webb (who was the coordinator and editor), Bill Sykes, and Phil Garnock-Jones, are to be congratulated for their documentation of the most important period in the history of our wild plants since Glacial times.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1990 1(1): 24

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