Plant Heritage New Zealand
Te Whakapapa o nga Rakau
Interpreting the special features of
By Tony Foster
Published by Penguin Books / Raupo
Publishing (NZ) Ltd
Paperback, 207 pages, 210 × 260mm,
New Zealand, 2008
Reviewed by Murray Dawson
Tony Foster is passionate about New
Zealand’s native plants. He has taught
biology and horticulture at secondary
schools, developed his own native plant website called ‘bushmans friend’
runs a business bearing the same
name taking visitors on interpretive
bushwalking tours in Northland.
Tony draws upon this background to
write a book sharing his enthusiasm
and knowledge of a wide range of
native plant species found in the New
Zealand bush. He showcases his
superb photography and provides
brief descriptions of each species
that teaches us how to identify and
Many of the native plants covered
are widely cultivated in our gardens,
such as the iconic cabbage trees,
flaxes, and ratas. Others are less
well known, but all have stories to tell
of their origins and evolution, their
traditional and present day uses,
and how they have inspired poems
and proverbs. These stories, both
European and Maori, are brought
together to highlight special features
of the flora, and how New Zealanders
have created a cultural history around
This book sets itself apart from most
other offerings. It is not a strictly
botanical field-guide like Poole and
Adams (1994), St George et al.
(2006) and other guides. Nor is it a
comprehensive treatment such as
those featuring botanical artwork
(Eagle, 2006), cultivars (Metcalf,
1993), divaricating plants (Wilson
and Galloway, 1993), cabbage trees
(Simpson, 2000), or hebes (Bayly and
Plant Heritage New Zealand seems
most allied to an earlier title by
the name of Flowering plants of
New Zealand (Webb et al., 1990).
Both books celebrate the special
qualities of the New Zealand flora,
are aimed at a wide public audience,
and attempt to increase people’s
appreciation and knowledge of native
Plant Heritage New Zealand is
divided into two parts that contain four
chapters each. Part 1, Introduction
to New Zealand’s remarkable plants,
provides the background and natural
history for the native species profiled
in Part 2.
This first part outlines endemism,
species diversity and distribution,
forest and plant associations (Chapter
1, New Zealand plants in the
landscape), biostatus (exotic/native/
endemic), ancestry and elements of
the flora, features of New Zealand
plants (Chapter 2, The characteristics
of New Zealand’s flora), taxonomy
and common names (Chapter 3,
What’s in a name? Classifying plants),
and Maori genealogies and insights
(Chapter 4, Maori and the plant
These are all ‘heavy duty’ topics, and
to me the author seemed to struggle
with the balance between presenting
complex information and conveying
it in a simple but accurate manner.
Professional botanists and ecologists
may feel that more detail is needed to
properly explain some of the topics.
For the less knowledgeable reader
the information could have been more
clearly written in places.
Part 2 is the main section of the book
and reveals its real strengths, where
the authors’ first-hand knowledge of
the 110 species that he observes and
his 300 or more photographs unfold.
Reading through the species profiles,
I gained the distinct impression that
the author was writing using much
of his own keen observations, rather
than rehashing information from floras
and other plant books.
Most of the species chosen for this
book were derived from the authors’
home area of Northland. This is quite
appropriate because (as he points
out) much of New Zealand’s species
diversity is found in the upper North
The format of each species profiled
works well, and green text boxes
are used for relevant quotes and
explanations from early European
writings and Maori oral traditions.
These are a delight to read and add
much to the interest of the ‘stories’
surrounding each plant. Also, the
meanings of the botanical names are
usefully provided, and nicely relate to
the photos and short descriptions.
Different plant groups are well
represented – there is a selection of
conifers (Chapter 5), dicotyledons
(Chapter 6), monocotyledons
(Chapter 7), and ferns (Chapter 8).
This book does not include any native
orchids, but these have already been
dealt with by others (e.g., St George
et al., 2006).
Within each major grouping according
to chapter, the genera are arranged
together in their respective families.
The families themselves do not seem
to follow any particular order.
The preferred botanical names and
treatments used for the plants are
generally current. For example,
the book places Hebe in the
Plantaginaceae family, where it is
now considered to belong, rather
than its long-standing placement in Scrophulariaceae.
However, some of the recent
and generally accepted name
changes have not been followed.
No explanation is provided for this,
which creates an impression that the
author has not kept abreast of the
botanical literature. Returning to the
hebe example, “Hebe hullcana” is
presumably a mis-spelling of Hebe
hulkeana, which is generally accepted
under a different genus, Heliohebe
hulkeana. And some botanists now
include Hebe (and allied genera) all
under an enlarged Veronica.
Other names are outdated in the
book. Pseudopanax anomalus is
referable to Raukaua anomalus, and
Pseudopanax simplex is referable to
Raukaua simplex. Reinstatement of
the name Raukaua (Mitchell et al.,
1997) has been well accepted by
At the family level, Cordyline is now
accepted in the Laxmanniaceae family
rather than Agavaceae, Leucopogon
fasciculatus is in the Ericaceae (along
with Dracophyllum, Leptecophylla and other epacrids not covered in
the book), rather than Epacridaceae;
Laurelia is in Atherospermataceae
rather than Monimiaceae; Phormium is in Hemerocallidaceae rather than
Agavaceae; Vitex is in Lamiaceae
rather than Verbenaceae.
Some authors will chose not to follow
these recent name changes, but they
should at least mention them. Many
of these changes are the result of
DNA sequencing studies. Noticeably
absent throughout the book is
discussion of the huge impact that
DNA sequencing has made on our
understanding of the plants – on their
names, taxonomic relationships, and
evolutionary histories. These DNA
and taxonomic ‘stories’ should also be
This book is not perfect in other
ways – there are a considerable
number of typographic errors that
should have been picked up during
editing. There seems to be a trend in
recent years where publishers are not
rigorous enough in their copy-editing.
As a result, the published work lets
themselves and their authors down. I
do hope that there will be an improved
second edition that removes these
minor irritations. The most glaring
problem is that much of the index lists
page numbers for the main body that
are incorrect – they are 1–3 pages out
Nevertheless, Plant Heritage New
Zealand is a useful book that should
appeal to a wide readership from
secondary school students upwards.
By and large, it does achieve what
it sets out to do, and successfully
celebrates the diversity, special
features, and beauty of the New
Zealand native flora.
Bayly, M. and Kellow, A. (2006).
An illustrated guide to New
Zealand hebes. Te Papa Press,
Wellington. 388 p.
Eagle, A. (2006). Eagle’s complete
trees and shrubs of New Zealand.
Te Papa Press, Wellington. Vol. 1,
544 p., Vol. 2, 592 p.
Metcalf, L.J. (1993). The cultivation
of New Zealand plants. Godwit
Press, Auckland. 260 p.
Mitchell, A.D.; Frodin, D.G.; Heads,
M.J. (1997). Reinstatement
of Raukaua, a genus of the
Araliaceae centred in New
Zealand. New Zealand Journal of
Botany 35(3): 309–315.
Poole, A.L. and Adams, N.M.
(1994). Trees and shrubs of
New Zealand. DSIR Publishing,
Wellington. 256 p.
Simpson, P. (2000). Dancing leaves,
the story of New Zealand’s
cabbage tree, ti kouka.
Canterbury University Press.
St George, I.; Irwin, B.; Hatch, D.
(2006). Field guide to the New
Zealand orchids. 4th ed. New
Zealand Native Orchid Group,
Wellington. 136 p. (First published
Webb, C.J.; Johnson, P.N.; Sykes,
W.R. (1990). Flowering Plants of
New Zealand. Botany Institute,
DSIR Land Resources, Private
Bag, Christchurch. 146 p.
Wilson, H.D. and Galloway, T.
(1993). Small-leaved Shrubs of
New Zealand. Manuka Press,
Christchurch. 305 p.
Zealand Garden Journal, 11(2), 2008, Page 27-29
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