2004 BANKS MEMORIAL LECTURE
New Zealand needs new plants
Reproduced from an article
by Peter Cave(1)
From The New Zealand
Garden Journal (Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture),
Vol. 7, No. 2, December 2004, pp. 2-4.
Banks Memorial Lecture was presented at the Hamilton Gardens as
part of the RNZIH Annual Meeting in Hamilton on 30 October 2004.
Lecture commemorates Sir Joseph Banks who accompanied Captain
James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to New Zealand in
1769. Banks was a great promoter of science in Britain in the
late 18th and early 19th centuries. He later
became President of the Royal Society, London for many years and
controlled the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
was particularly interested in plants that could be used for practical
purposes. He encouraged the introduction of such plants into other
countries for possible commercial use, and he fostered the exchange
of plants and animals then being made known by exploration between
the Old World and the New Worlds.
therefore, fitting that the 2004 Banks Memorial Lecture dealt
with the role of introduced plants in New Zealand. In our agriculture,
our horticulture, and our forestry, New Zealand is almost completely
dependant on introduced plants. Ultimately, we depend on them
for our livelihood. Yet it is fashionable for introduced plants
to receive a bad press, often being portrayed as unwelcome aliens,
inappropriate for our landscape.
was Peter Cave, well known grower, traveller and surfer. Peter
Cave is a nurseryman from Cambridge who specialises in novel,
cool-temperate plants, especially those from Asia. Peter is not
a narrow-minded plant chauvinist. He believes that we should take
advantage of the enormous diversity of plants available to us,
and that we should choose to use the very best of plants irrespective
of their country of origin.
lecture he discussed the need to introduce new plants to New Zealand.
He relayed his own experiences in plant hunting, following in
the footsteps of some of the great plant explorers, and finding
the plants that should do well in this country. He then described
possibly the hardest part of his work in this area: negotiating
the many regulatory hurdles to the introduction of new plants.
In the good old days,
in New Zealand, you could import absolutely anything. You could
bring in any amount of soil and type of plant. The only limitations
were your available finances, slow transport resulting in plant
death (obviously initially everything came on ships), and lack of
plastic to wrap plants. Wooden cases were originally used for the
sea transport of plant material, and there is a long history of
this plant trade. But initially, as far as plants coming into New
Zealand, anything went, and you could do whatever you liked.
In the early days, Douglas
Cook at Eastwoodhill Arboretum brought many plants into New Zealand.
He was able do this because he had a good source of income: he sold
off half of his property to finance planting the rest of it. Douglas
Cook was able to import a large range of plants, and like all of
us, he also lost many through transport. In more recent times, many
of the plants that I have brought in myself from overseas (when
it was easier to bring material in) were actually plants that Douglas
Cook had already imported, and then lost. So, there are plants that
have repeatedly been imported into New Zealand.
When I began importing
plants, particularly when I was at Massey and soon afterwards in
the 1970s, the quarantine procedure involved checking a list of
plants that were banned. Everything else you could import, so long
as it was inspected and went through a quarantine procedure. So,
if it was a plant, it usually had to be grown in quarantine for
a period of time and inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry (MAF) before release. During that time, I imported dozens
of species every year, and considered it was my job as a horticulturist
to bring in whatever I could.
Native plants have not
been used in New Zealand in any significant way for a commercial
return, so it has been necessary for New Zealanders to bring in
all the plants they require from overseas. There have been a few
exceptions, like flaxes (Phormium tenax), which until about
the 1960s formed the basis of the flax fibre industry. Poroporo
(Solanum laciniatum and S. aviculare) was used
for birth control pill production for a time, sphagnum moss is being
exported, and there have been a few other examples. More recently,
New Zealand native plants have been exported as ornamentals, such
as Hebe cultivars, but we cannot live off our native plants
for food and forage. So, everything we need has had to come in from
In recent times, the
Biosecurity Act of 1993 and the Hazardous Substances and Noxious
Organisms Act of 1996 (HSNO) have controlled the entry of plants
into New Zealand. I love this HSNO Act. The emotive words suggest
that rather than bringing in a new plant, you are importing a "noxious
organism". You are pretty much doomed before you even start, aren't
Now, we have a list of
all the plant species that are supposed to be already here, in theory
at least. I am told by experts that this list names only 80% of
the plants that are actually in New Zealand. Everything that is
not on that list we cannot bring in, unless we are prepared to pay
huge quarantine fees and risk assessments. It is very difficult
to correct this list, and there is a suspicion that you are trying
to cheat and somehow hoodwink the system if you try. If you can
get a plant onto the list it means you can import it again, which
to me seems strange logic. If you already have it in New Zealand,
why do you want to import it again?
However, I heard recently
of a case, from a forestry worker in Rotorua, where a species of
eucalypt was in their plantings as a sample. Forest Research (formerly
Forest Research Institute) discovered it had good potential. So,
Forest Research decided to obtain it from other provenances in Australia,
because the sample they had was not the best form. When they applied,
the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) arrived to inspect
the trees that were already there, and the gardener had actually
cut them down - about a week or two before, I believe. Because that
species was now no longer officially in New Zealand, Forest Research
could not import it any more. So, a promising avenue of new material
had effectively been shut down.
About five years ago,
I applied to import a camellia species from Australia and was informed,
by fax from ERMA, that it would cost $65,000. That would include
their charge for a risk assessment of the new species. Talking to
people who have actually used the system in the last six years since
that piece of legislation came into effect, it would appear that
there have been something like six plants officially introduced
over that time. It usually costs around $30,000 to actually get
a new species into the country. This is something I think is seriously
wrong. New Zealand definitely needs to be able to bring in new plants
to breed, so that we can keep up with other countries much more
freely. But it's just far too expensive.
Another aspect that frustrates
me is that some whole genera, such as the magnolias and camellias,
are already well represented in New Zealand, with the many species
and cultivars widely grown and not presenting any weed problems.
Surely these could be exempt from the full quarantine procedure?
It seems unlikely that a species new to New Zealand from these well
known genera is suddenly going to become a huge risk to our environment.
There is, I think, an unwillingness to consider these issues and
apply discretion in the application of the ban - or what amounts
to a ban - that we now have on entry of new plants. It is easier
for people administering the system to have a complete embargo on
new plants coming in, by and large, and to keep it that way. It
makes it very safe; and their jobs are secure. We now seem to have
a bureaucratic culture of safety, but I think this trend has gone
too far. Without informed risks, there are none of the associated
Consider the plants that
are commercial successes for New Zealand, such as Pinus radiata,
kiwifruit, grapes, and asparagus. These are all plants producing
major income streams for New Zealand. However, under the current
regulations, if they were not already here, they would certainly
all be denied entry into New Zealand because of their prolific seed
production! So, where are we going to generate our income from for
any new future crops?
There are some peculiar
loopholes in the current legislation that allow large numbers of
mature plants to be introduced, that is, of plants that are already
here. They can come in, in large quantities, and some of these are
actually posing quite a quarantine risk. At the moment, there are
crops in the country worth around $2 million that are being held
in limbo while the government decides whether the virus that has
been found in them was here before 1998. It's in all the horticultural
trade press. Nobody wants to say, "Well it was, or it wasn't" because
there are large amounts of money involved. The problem is called
Badnavirus. It's quite strange that we are allowed to bring in large
quantities of mature plants of species that are already here.
The best we can hope
for, under current legislation, is to maintain and exploit our existing
genetic stocks. We may be able to breed new cultivars within the
current genetic pool, but we cannot get new and potentially useful
material in. We could attempt to produce new characters through
inducing mutations by radiation treatment and mutagenic chemicals.
However, it seems to me that plants that have been grown overseas
and, "road-tested" for thousands of years as species in the wild
have got to be a lot safer than plants that were developed three
months ago by chemicals and radiation.
New Zealanders are particularly
good at horticulture. We just seem to have a really good feel for
it. We grow, breed, and market plants very well. It seems to me
that it is one of New Zealand's strengths, and it is frustrating
that we are denied access to new material for maintaining this lucrative
tradition. Each year, we get further behind, and Australia and other
countries are gaining a commercial edge.
So we continually need
new genetic material to stay competitive as a nation. We need to
breed to improve current crops, and to develop new crops. New Zealand
is slipping behind all the time, and the gap keeps getting wider
each year with this restrictive legislation. We need a legal and
affordable method of entry for new species. Since the Biosecurity
Act of 1993, there have only been about six new species introduced
legally. God knows how many species have been introduced illegally!
What can we do about
it? Well, there's really only one answer: we can communicate. The
government and the lawmakers represent us, and they are there to
make legislative changes that benefit all of New Zealand. The horticultural
industry has to let them know that the current import regulations
are failing seriously. I encourage you to lobby your MPs now, because
it is an election year next year. They need your vote. Let them
know that there is something seriously wrong with the state of horticulture
in New Zealand, and the fact that we cannot import new plants is
gravely jeopardising our future.
Basically, that's my
message. Talk about it. Contact people. Make a fuss. There is no
point in railing at people in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries,
or ERMA, because they are there by Act of Parliament to do a job;
to implement the law. It is the law itself, and the implementation
of it, that is the problem. We cannot get more plants into New Zealand,
and New Zealand really does need more plants.
Cave's Tree Nursery, Pukeroro, RD3, Hamilton
article is also available as a PDF
this topical article has been reproduced by:
Note that Cave's Tree Nursery is no longer in business.
In this article, the
acronym for HSNO was incorrectly given as Hazardous Substances
and Noxious Organisms Act 1996. This act should correctly be referred
to as the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.
See erratum published
in The New Zealand Garden Journal (Journal of the Royal New
Zealand Institute of Horticulture), Vol. 8, No. 1, June 2005,