Shrubs of New Zealand
By Hugh Wilson and Tim Galloway
Published by Manuka Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1993
Reviewed by Alan Esler
At first I wondered if
there is a place for one more book about New Zealand shrubs. The
subject seems to be well covered, while we are starved of information
about many non-woody plants. Did the authors persuade me otherwise
in 300 pages with quite a full text, 30 colour illustrations, and
180 line drawings bound between a pair of very solid covers?
We have a remarkable
number of small-leaved shrubs (and trees) in unrelated families.
It is as if a sap-sucking insect injected a gene that made some
plants throw anomalies. The introduction to the book does not accept
or reject two theories put forward to explain the origin of small-leaved
divaricating shrubs, but says they "make good stories". Both may
be elements of a complex explanation. Pokaka has a transitory juvenile
stage, while in Pseudopanax anomalus the form persists
throughout life. In each of these genera only one species is microphyllous.
Some native conifers have smaller leaves as adults.
To qualify for inclusion
in this book the plants had to be between 30 cm and 6 m tall and
with leaves less than 2 cm long. This did not exclude trees like
rimu which at one stage lie within the limits, or climbers or the
occasional alien woody weed.
Such a book would be
expected to fall into natural sections, and it does: introduction
(pp. 1-14), key to species (pp. 15-58), and description of plants
(pp. 59-290). This is followed by glossary, references, index, and
notes about the authors. Good maps occupy the inside of both covers.
The key works: my test
samples were named in about 5 minutes each. A user less familiar
with keys might do about as well, because there are few technical
terms requiring the adequate glossary. In places a hand lens is
needed to see some of the plant features clearly.
The descriptive part
is a mini-flora. It is much more readable than a flora because it
does not have to conform to the same conventions. Authority names
are not used, and meanings are given for the binomials. None of
the common names are continued for the sake of having a vernacular.
Most of the descriptions
occupy 6 to 8 lines (up to 18) and use words like leaf stalk, petal,
stubby, springy, furry, downy which are appropriate terms. Similar
plants are compared as a further check on correct naming. About
230 species are covered, 165 in considerable detail.
Some genera have numerous
small-leaved plants given full treatment Coprosma 33 species,
Hebe 22, Olearia 14, and Pittosporum
7. To call them species is not entirely correct; they are distinct
entities, but not all have names. The flora covering woody plants
published in 1961 is well out of date. One long-retired botanist
gives his own tag names "a", "b", "c" and so on to entities he recognised
in Coprosma without adequate names, and has used up all
the alphabet. There are scores and scores of unnamed plants in our
relatively small native flora. Until recently a small team of world-class
taxonomists worked to correct this deficiency. Now the team and
their internationally known organisation exist no more: such is
the state of this fundamental plant science.
The standard of naming
in the plant trade is appalling, and is not helped by botanists
not being able to supply published names for plants that evolved
in this country. Hugh Wilson does not resolve these taxonomic deficiencies,
but makes us aware of them. In his many publications he has been
forced to use descriptions and illustrations to indicate each plant
deserving a name. Many 'new species' have been discovered in his
intensive vegetation survey of Mt Cook National Park, Stewart Island,
and Banks Peninsula.
The line drawings are
by Tim Galloway, who has already distinguished himself as an artist
in other publications. Surely, this project must have been the most
demanding. Writing about Coprosma species (p. 83), the
authors say "They are difficult to identify, because not only do
they resemble one another, but the variation within species is considerable,
involving both genetic and environmental factors. In particular,
the difference between plants of a single species growing in shade
and in full sun can be very marked. Nevertheless each species has
its distinctive features, and identification, although challenging,
is far from impossible!"
This was a challenge to the artist. The drawings are not only accurate
but they look right. There is a level of economy in making a line
drawing at which every line and every dot is significant. The artist
found that level. Readers of this book will appreciate finding the
drawing close to its main entry.
of New Zealand' is more for botanists than for gardeners, but it
will take its place in the substantial horticultural literature
of the world because many of the plants in the book are used in
gardens, and there are prospects for growing many more of them.
in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
1994 5(1): 36
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