The Cook Era
The story of botanical exploration in New Zealand begins with Captain Cook who had with him in the Endeavour a number of scientists. Among these was Joseph Banks who, accompanied by his assistant, Daniel Solander, went ashore at every opportunity to collect plants. Although they were seldom able to penetrate more than 2 to 3 miles from the coast, they found a great variety of coastal plants quite new to them. With enthusiasm they worked long hours sorting and preserving specimens, and making drawings and precise descriptions of the 350 plants they had collected. Their specimens came from Queen Charlotte Sound, Poverty Bay, Tolaga Bay, Mercury Bay, and Bay of Islands, and were from varied habitats along the coastline: sandy beaches, salty estuaries, and rocky headlands exposed to winds. The collection included plants such as grass tree (Dracophyllum squarrosum), puriri, pohutukawa, mangrove, and silver tree fern (Cyathea dealbata), Phormium tenax, Astelias, Senecios, karaka, and many endemic species. Though Banks and Solander wrote full descriptions of the 350 plants they collected, their work was never published, but is now in the British Museum in manuscript form as Primitive Florae Novae Zelandiae. A typed copy is in the Auckland Museum and a photostat copy is in the Dominion Museum, Wellington.
Banks wished to accompany Cook on his second voyage, again at his own expense, but there were difficulties with the Admiralty, and finally he helped J. R. Forster and his son George to make the voyage. At Dusky Sound these men collected Celmisias (2), Gentians (2), Dracophyllums (2), Nothopanax simplex, and the southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata), and at Queen Charlotte Sound they found rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), manuka(Leptospermum scoparium), Olearias, Hebe, and Carmichaelias. On all his voyages Cook looked for green plants to supplement the diet of his crew. He collected large quantities of Apium prostratum (celery) which was used in various ways, Lepidium oleraceum (known as Cook's scurvy grass), Tetragonia expansa (New Zealand spinach) which he served as a salad, and “tea tree” from which he brewed a drink. Largely as a result of these measures the dread scourge of scurvy was held in check.