The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 5: Gardens in Asia, America, Africa, Australia

Timber trees in New Zealand

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943. The timber trees of New Zealand present abundance of materials for the purposes of the builder, the shipwright, and the cabinet-maker. Upwards of sixty kinds of more or less valuable timber have been sent to England as specimens; and doubtless in the impenetrable recesses of the forests, there are many trees that have not yet been examined by Europeans. As a proof of this, a piece of wood was found in one of the rivers which was evidently mahogany, though no mahogany tree has, as yet, been found growing in the colony. The following are the most important and interesting of the trees that have been found. The kauri, erroneously pronounced cowrie, is the Dammara australis of botanists. It is a gregarious tree, generally inhabiting the tides and declivities of clayey mountains, where it attains the enormous height of from fifty to ninety feet without a branch, the circumference of the item being from fifteen to thirty feet near the base. The bark being of a silver-grey colour, the stem resembles an enormous antique column. Round its base accumulate large masses of the gum-resin which it exudes, and which is a very clear and transparent substance, and which makes an excellent varnish. The tree, being very light in proportion to its strength and its noble dimensions, is used by the Admiralty for the masts of men-of-war. The timber is easily cut and wrought, and well adapted for ship-building, as it is more buoyant than the British oak or the Indian teak wood. The kaikatea (Dacrydium excelsum) inhabits low wet soils, and is found extending in belts along the margins of rivers, as the Thames, the Hutt, the Piako, &c. Its great height and straightness would render this a valuable tree, but for the softness of its wood. The timber of the kaikatea, being subject to decay when exposed to wet and dry weather, is only suited for inside work, and will doubtless be cheaper than the other kinds of timber, being found on the banks of rivers, and, therefore, very accessible. The kaikatea becomes less spongy in texture towards the south, and at Stewart's Island it is said to be nearly as durable as the kauri. The totora is a kind of yew, but it frequently attains a height of from fifty to sixty feet before it shows any branches. The wood is reddish, splits well, and is very hard. Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) is a very elegant tree with graceful bright foliage, which has been compared to that of the weeping-willow, but it is more like plumes of feathers. The wood is hard, dark, rather brittle, and emits a resinous odour. The diameter of the trunk, even when full grown, seldom exceeds four feet. Kawaka (Dacrydium plumosum) has a very fine hard grain, well adapted for cabinet work, and it is said to resemble the tulip-wood of Moreton Bay. Puridi ( Vitex littoralis), called, from the hardness and durability of its timber, the New Zealand oak, furnishes strong and durable timber for ships, and ground-plates for houses. It is dark, close-grained, and takes a good polish, but is unfit to be sawn into boards, owing to its being much perforated by a large grub. Its stem is from twelve to twenty feet in circumference, and it grows to a height of thirty feet before beginning to branch. Rewa-rewa (Knightia excelsa), a slender tree, growing to the height of fifty or sixty feet, furnishes a brown wood, beautifully mottled with red. It is durable, and splits easily, and is, therefore, well adapted for fencing. There are several kinds of Podocarpus, which produce a dark durable wood. Rata (Metrosideros robusta) is a tree which attains a large size, with very peculiar habits. It is at first a parasite, winding round large trees of the forest, till it encircles and destroys them, when its numerous coils join together in one hollow trunk, which elongates downwards. In fact, the rata is an epiphyte growing towards, not from, the ground, which will explain the saying of the natives, that this tree is never young. Its timber is robust and durable, and its branches are well adapted for ship timber. At the base of this tree, and no where else, as the natives declare, is found the vegetable grub or wooden caterpillar. From its head there issues a long process terminating in a point, closely resembling the fibrous root of a plant. The tree-fern is also abundant in the woods of New Zealand ; and a curious plant called by the natives 'the mother of the ferns,' the stem of which is eatable towards the root, and which appears to be a kind of Cycas. (New Zealand, &c., p. 332.)