New Zealand Plant Collection Register
Update No. 3: 1st March 1993


Reproduced from an article by Dr. Keith Hammett
488c Don Buck Road, Massey, Auckland 8, New Zealand

From Horticulture in New Zealand (Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture), Vol. 4, No. 1, Summer 1993, pp. 18-28.

New Zealand is very rich in both native and introduced flora (Webb, Sykes & Garnock-Jones, 1988, Flora of New Zealand vol. IV). It is important to know not only which plants are in the country but where they are located and how vulnerable specific taxa might be to loss. This is especially so for introduced plants and for specific cultivars since the source of such germplasm, both wild and cultivated, is being rapidly eroded in some areas and is being made unavailable from others. New Zealand has already proven itself to be a "Noah's Ark" for some plants and cultivars.

The Plant Collection Group of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture is attempting to build up a register of plant collections, of all sizes, held in New Zealand.

Such a register is essential and will have many uses. It will be of value to nurserymen and gardeners seeking plants new to their range. It will offer the opportunity to avoid the reintroduction of germplasm already in the country, thus reducing the risks of importing further pests and diseases and the intricacies and delays of quarantine. Plant breeders will see such a list as a guide to available germplasm for breeding programmes. However, its most important purpose will be as a guide to the vulnerability of each species or cultivar. Clearly if plants are grown widely they are much less likely to be lost than if only a few specimens exist in one or a few collections.

Often collections exist only because of the enthusiasm of individuals. Bureaucratic institutions and commercial operations frequently prove to be poor long-term custodians of germplasm. Unfortunately valuable collections are all too often lost when their collectors become too old or die. Once a register is established the horticultural community will be in a better position to assess plants and collections which are vulnerable and steps can be taken to remedy the situation.

The register will never be complete as plant holdings change constantly. However, it is hoped that now it has been started it will prove to be a focal point and enthusiasts will see gaps and will help to keep it as up-to-date and useful as possible.

Small collections are as valuable as large ones. In fact taxa may be safer distributed in a mosaic of many small collections rather than concentrated in a few large ones. Don't consider your collection too small to list. You may be the sole holder of a particular plant. Unless it is listed no one knows. The register was initially compiled in March 1992 from returns received from a questionnaire sent out during 1991 and from letters received in response to an article by Mike Oates in the June 1989 issue of New Zealand Gardener. Many important gaps were obvious. Following a limited distribution of the first version, individuals pointed to unlisted collections and these were added to the register. This enabled Update No. 2 to be produced in July 1992. Increased publicity and distribution of the second list produced a steady flow of information which has almost doubled the number of collections listed.

At this stage the register is still best seen as an informal working list rather than an authoritative one handed down by an august body. It is currently only an index to collections rather than individual plants. Recently the NZ Lottery Grant Board made a grant to the RNZIH to investigate the publication of more detailed information.

Some groups such as the Herb Federation have already done much valuable work and have started to publish lists of plants held in various collections. Those collections detailed in the Herb Federation of New Zealand publication "Individual Plant Collections" (1992) are indicated by the sign [2] in this update.

Similarly, Marion MacKay has produced the valuable publication "A survey and evaluation of the distribution of selected exotic tree genera in private collections in New Zealand" (1990), in association with the New Zealand members of the International Dendrology Society. The seventeen genera dealt with in this study are indicated by the sign [1]. At this time, no attempt has been made to detail in the register separately the 33 collections covered by Marion's survey.

The important work carried out on individual trees over many years by S.W. Burstall must not be overlooked and should be seen as an adjunct to the register. His findings are recorded in eight "Unpublished" reports produced between 1970 and 1974 as "Historic and Notable Trees of New Zealand". They cover the country by regions and are cited as Forest Research Institute Mensuration Reports.

A condensation of this work was formally published by S.W. Burstall and E.V. Sale as "Great Trees of New Zealand" (1984) by Reed Publishing. However, it is the unpublished mensuration reports which are of greatest value in connection with our current work.

As twenty or more years have passed since Burstall carried out his work and as he recorded individual trees distributed widely on properties large and small (often single trees in suburban home gardens), it is probably not practicable to integrate his data with this register of collections. Burstall's work does, however, provide a stunning insight into the wealth of plant material at our disposal, some indication of the effort needed to quantify it and just how much one enthusiastic individual can achieve.

If a wide range of people connected with plants in New Zealand make a contribution, whether they be botanists, plant collectors, breeders, nurserymen or home gardeners, we can produce and maintain a working index of our plant resource which will benefit both ourselves and will help to ensure the continued existence of as many plants as possible.

I am very grateful to all the people who have provided information thus far, and apologise for not having been able to answer all their letters individually.

If you have information to contribute to the register please contact: Dr. K. R. W. Hammett, 488c, Don Buck Road, Massey, Auckland 8

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