Pukekura Park - its ecology and history - Friends of Pukekura Park New Plymouth Inc.

Original Ferns of the Pukekura Park Fernery

David Medway

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A scheme to provide “what will probably be the most complete fernery in New Zealand” was adopted by the Pukekura Park Board at its meeting in June 1926. It was confidently hoped that varieties of all of New Zealand’s hundreds of ferns and mosses would be growing in the proposed Fernery within two or three years (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 19/6/1926).

In July 1927, Thomas Horton, Superintendent of the Park, showed a Taranaki Herald reporter through the almost-completed Fernery. Horton told the reporter that “The idea is to establish as complete a collection of New Zealand ferns as we can get together. For this purpose over a score of enthusiastic botanists in various parts of the Dominion are collecting specimens. When the collection is complete we hope to make it a sanctuary which will be the only one of its kind in New Zealand”. The collection would include “all the smaller-growing ferns, such as: Todea superba, lomarias, gleichenias, aspleniums, doodia media, leptolepia, nephrodium, loxsoma, blechnum, lygodium, hymenophyllum, lindsaya, polystichum, pteris, trichomanes reniforme, etc”. 204 ferns of 25 varieties donated by Duncan & Davies, nurserymen, would form the foundation of the collection (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 30/7/1927).

Horton informed the Pukekura Park Board at its meeting in August 1927 that, in addition to ferns donated, he and his staff had collected a great many themselves. The work of stocking the three chambers of the new Fernery was well advanced, a total of 1071 ferns having been planted. In October 1927, the thanks of the Board were due to a Mrs Mason, of Westown, for the gift of Lomaria alpina (now Blechnum penna-marina) for the Fernery (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 20/8/1927, 15/10/1927). Horton recorded in his work diaries, now in Puke Ariki at New Plymouth, that 2370 ferns were growing in the Fernery as at 25 January 1928.


The new Fernery was officially opened by the Mayor of New Plymouth, Mr. H.V.S. Griffiths, on 28 January 1928. He believed the Fernery would be unique, and that it deserved success as one of the greatest attractions of the town (Taranaki Herald 28/1/1928). On 11 June 1929, at the last meeting of the Pukekura Park Board as it was then constituted, the Chairman Mr. F. Amoore expressed the opinion that erection of the Fernery was the wisest thing the Board ever did. Every visitor spoke well of it, and that very morning the Minister of Industries said he had seen nothing like it in New Zealand (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 15/6/1929).

Francis Morshead was acting Superintendent of the Park from 4 February 1928 until 11 October 1928 while Horton was overseas. Morshead continued Horton’s work diary during that period. We learn from it that on 8 May 1928 Morshead “collected 5 specimens of Gleichenia cunninghamii var. alpina from Mt Egmont”. Gleichenia cunninghamii is the umbrella fern, now Sticherus cunninghamii. As far as I am aware, no variety of that fern has ever been formally described and named as alpina. On 14 September 1928 Morshead “cycled to Mt Messenger for ferns”, and on 3 October 1928 he “botanised Paritutu with V. C. Davies for ferns etc.”. Ferns collected by Morshead in the course of these excursions found their way into the new Fernery. Morshead’s assistance in this regard was acknowledged by Horton in his report to the December 1928 meeting of the Board (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 15/12/1928).

Also in 1928, ferns were donated to the Fernery by interested members of the public. For example, the September 1928 meeting of the Board was informed by Morshead that a collection of ferns had been received from Mr L. S. Mackie of Otakeho, and Mr Chas. Cameron of Tauranga, who visited the Fernery during Easter 1928, had sent a very fine collection many of which were rare species and varieties. The fern collection then “comprised 112 recognised species and varieties, besides many local variations of the types which had been collected and sent in by interested collectors” (The Budget & Taranaki Weekly Herald 22/9/1928). Horton informed the December 1928 meeting of the Board that “They now had the most complete collection of New Zealand ferns in the Dominion and he was hopeful that the time was not far distant when the collection will be absolutely complete. The few required were being sought for by collectors who were intensely interested in the fernery” (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 15/12/1928).

H.B. Dobbie, a noted fern expert, visited the Fernery sometime between when it opened and the unknown date in 1930 when he wrote the Preface to the third edition (1931) of his popular book New Zealand ferns. Dobbie said the fern he illustrated in this edition under the name Gleichenia cunninghamii var. montanum (= Sticherus cunninghamii) was from “the wonderful New Plymouth fernery, where one sees almost every New Zealand species and variety growing in luxuriance”. The varietal name montanum was almost certainly applied by Dobbie to the specimens of Sticherus cunninghamii from Mt Egmont to which Morshead had given the manuscript name alpina. Dobbie probably gave the name montanum to this fern to avoid confusion with the name alpina which was applicable to a variety of the closely-related tangle fern Gleichenia dicarpa.

It is to be regretted that there seem to be no surviving lists from which we can ascertain the specific identity of any of the ferns which were growing in the Fernery when it opened in January 1928, or were growing there in the years immediately following its opening. In the absence of any such lists, the only specifically identified ferns known from contemporary written sources to have been growing in the Fernery at that time were the above-mentioned Blechnum penna-marina gifted by Mrs Mason in 1927, and the Sticherus cunninghamii collected by Francis Morshead somewhere on Mt Egmont on 8 May 1928.




The accompanying photograph taken by Teeds of New Plymouth, probably in the early 1930s, shows the interior of the new Fernery.

Reproduced from The Newsletter of the Friends of Pukekura Park 3(1) (February 2008)


On 28 January 1928 H.V.S Griffiths, then Mayor of New Plymouth, opened the Pukekura Park Fernery, which by the end of 1928 boasted the most extensive collection of New Zealand ferns and mosses in existence. Then and now a favourite of visitors, the fernery was established following a frenzy of fern collecting augmented by public donations, the greatest of these by Duncan & Davies, local nurserymen.  The development was encouraged by Thomas Horton and achieved through the efforts of many interested collectors, including Acting Park Superintendent, Francis Morshead, who made forays to Paritutu, Mt. Egmont and Mt. Messenger during 1928.  A photo depicts the interior of the new fernery as it was in the early 1930’s.

Pukekura Park Fernery, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand, native flora of New Zealand, ferns, mosses, history, tourist attraction, Thomas Horton, H.B. Dobbie, Francis Morshead, fern collection, Duncan & Davies.


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