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In The Hills In The Hills 2015-02

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 87, no 1, February 2015

February in the hills with Barbara Mitcalfe and Chris Horne

Aotearoa'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 Aotearoa'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, Remutaka 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 Aotearoa, he describes the unbroken ancestry, the priceless heritage of our Aotearoa 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.

Aotearoa'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 Aotearoa 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), Remutaka (R), and Aorangi (A), ranges, and western Wellington (W) hills:

Dacrycarpus dacrydioideskahikateaT R A W
Dacrydium cupressinumrimuT R A W
Halocarpus biformispink pineT
Phyllocladus alpinus agg.*mountain toatoaT
Phyllocladus toatoatoatoaT
Podocarpus cunninghamiithin-barked tōtaraT R A
P. cunninghamii x P. nivalisa hybrid tōtaraT R
P. cunninghamii x P. totaraa hybrid tōtaraT
Podocarpus totaratōtaraT R A W
Prumnopitys ferrugineamiroT R A W
Prumnopitys taxifoliamataīT R A W
**agg. = aggregate, meaning a group of plants with similar features which may require further study to determine whether they comprise one entity, or more than one entity.

Aotearoa's indigenous conifers

Phyllocladus trichomanoidestānekaha

Next month we shall get back to our usual pattern of focussing on a single plant. The subject will be kahikatea, the first podocarp in the list above

Botany 2015

In The Hills 2014-12 < Index chronological > In The Hills 2015-03

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