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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The indigenous vegetation of New Zealand is considered to be unique as it consists of a very large number of endemic species. It is fortunate that on the early voyages of discovery there were men who were keenly interested in plants. On his first voyage Captain Cook was accompanied by Joseph Banks, who made the voyage for the purpose of observing the plants of new countries, and had spent many thousands of pounds of his own money on equipment and assistants. Also on Cook's other voyages, as on the voyages of d'Urville and others, were men who collected and described the plants they found. We are fortunate that so many surveyors and geologists of this early period were keen botanists. Before long there appeared comprehensive descriptions of the plants of New Zealand, and at Kew Gardens was established a very extensive herbarium of the specimens they collected. Since then there have been many changes in the vegetative pattern. The original vegetation had flourished free from the depredations of mammals but the arrival of the European settler saw the introduction of domestic animals, many of which escaped to the bush and became feral. They fed on native plants and trampled the undergrowth. Further changes took place with the destructive burning of the bush, large-scale felling of trees for timber, and clearing the land for farming.

In our forests there were very great numbers of birds which were disturbed by the coming of man, both Maori and European. The introduction of rats, stoats, weasels, and cats has greatly reduced the numbers of birds, with the result that some species have become extinct or almost so. The armies of rabbits which for a time threatened to overrun the country have changed the aspect of vegetation in many areas. Moas have disappeared, and the kiwi (Apteryx), the kakapo (Strigops), the takahe (Notornis), the flightless birds, are now seldom found. The tui (Prosthemadera) with its bell-like notes; the huia with the long curved bill of the female; the kea, accused of killing sheep, and the wry-billed plover are in some districts in danger of extinction. So in a less noticeable way are many of the native plants.


Olive Rita Croker, M.A., Botanist, Wellington.