February in the hills with Barbara Mitcalfe and Chris Horne
NZ's indigenous conifers
Conifers are plants whose reproductive organs are called cones. In the forthcoming monthly issues of The Tramper, we shall be describing some of NZ's indigenous conifers: kahikatea, rimu, mountain toatoa, tōtara, mataī and miro.
Our ancient forests are priceless heritage
TTC members tramp in bush in the Tararua, Rimutaka and Aorangi ranges, in Otari-Wilton's Bush, other reserves in the Wellington region, and beyond, sometimes among majestic, towering, indigenous conifer species that are hundreds of years old, emergent above the canopy. An example is kahikatea, which can reach to 60 m in height, and exceed 1,000 years of age.
Fossil pollen research has established that kahikatea's direct ancestors were flourishing in Gondwanaland in the Jurassic period, up to c. 175 million years ago. In John Salmon's The native trees of New Zealand, he describes the unbroken ancestry, the priceless heritage of our NZ indigenous conifer forests. He went on to write that they contain more species with ancient lineages than there are in old forests elsewhere, and are therefore among the most ancient forests in the world.
NZ's indigenous conifers
Our indigenous conifers are classified as gymnosperms, which are non-flowering, seed-producing plants. The name is derived from Greek: 'gymno' = naked, and 'sperm' = seed, because they reproduce by means of seeds that are naked, i.e., not enclosed. Therefore they differ from angiosperms, which are flowering plants whose seeds are enclosed inside ovaries, or inside mature fruit, e.g., apple.
Our three families of indigenous NZ conifers are organised into ten genera and twenty-one species. The families are:
- Podocarpaceae (18 species). 'Podocarp' is from Greek: 'podos' (foot) and 'karpos' (fruit).
- Araucariaceae (1 species), and
- Cupressaceae (2 species).
There are no members of Araucariaceae or Cupressaceae families in the Wellington region. All our indigenous conifer species are endemic and evergreen. Nineteen of them are trees, e.g., rimu, kauri, mountain cedar, etc. Two of them are low shrubs, e.g., pygmy pine, (rarely more than 30 cm high!).
Wellington region's indigenous conifers
Keep an eye out for the following members of the podocarp family which have been recorded in the Tararua (T), Rimutaka (R), and Aorangi (A), ranges, and western Wellington (W) hills:
|Dacrycarpus dacrydioides||kahikatea||T R A W|
|Dacrydium cupressinum||rimu||T R A W|
|Halocarpus biformis||pink pine||T|
|Phyllocladus alpinus agg.*||mountain toatoa||T|
|Podocarpus cunninghamii||thin-barked tōtara||T R A|
|P. cunninghamii x P. nivalis||a hybrid tōtara||T R|
|P. cunninghamii x P. totara||a hybrid tōtara||T|
|Podocarpus totara||tōtara||T R A W|
|Prumnopitys ferruginea||miro||T R A W|
|Prumnopitys taxifolia||mataī||T R A W|
NZ's indinenous conifers