A Great Ecologist
Pioneer botanists like Hooker expanded their work from mere descriptions of plants to considerations of their geographical distribution. Leonard Cockayne went further and emphasised the importance of geographical factors on plant life, together with the relationship of plants to those others among which they grew. He noted the climate, the type of soil, the presence of animals, and any other consideration which might affect the growth of plants. This was a new approach and Cockayne rightly won a reputation as being the first great ecologist of the country.
A few years after his arrival, Cockayne bought 4 acres of land at New Brighton, Christchurch, where he established a garden. Every year, for 12 years, he exchanged hundreds of plants and seeds with people in all parts of the world. Then he became interested in growth regeneration after forest and tussock fires, in the vegetation of the outlying islands, and in the two distinct types of vegetation on the eastern and western slopes of the Southern Alps. For the Department of Lands and Survey he made a series of surveys of plant associations including coastal vegetation, the sand dunes, the reserves at Kapiti, Tongariro National Park, and Stewart Island. For the Department of Agriculture he explored Central Otago, especially those dry areas where vegetation had been depleted by overstocking, rabbits, and burning. When Cockayne later came to live at Wellington, he made a garden at Wilton in which he established plants from many parts of the country, carefully labelling and recording all facts of the locality from which they came and of their growth. The garden has now become a wonderful open-air musem – Otari – under the control of the Wellington City Council. In this reserve lie the graves of Cockayne and his wife amid the native plants he loved so well.
Such in brief is the story of the pioneer botanist-explorers who in the span of a few decades gave New Zealand a comprehensive picture of its indigenous and unique flora.
by Olive Rita Croker, M.A., Botanist, Wellington.