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

The Earliest Known Botanical Survey of Pukekura Park

David Medway

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At the annual meeting of the Taranaki Scenery Preservation Society held at New Plymouth in August 1898 the President, C. W. Govett, observed that “The advice so persistently given by the Society to plant native trees and shrubs wherever possible is ever more and more followed, and we believe that in a few more years New Plymouth will be noted for its good taste and beauty in this respect" (The Budget and Taranaki Weekly Herald 6/8/1898).


William Park F.R.H.S. of Palmerston North spent a day in Pukekura Park in mid-1908 and was so “delighted and charmed” with what he saw that he wrote an appreciative article which was published in his local newspaper and reproduced in the Taranaki Herald of 12 June 1908. In this article William Park said that “one of the principal features of the park is the splendid collection of native flora … There are about 200 species of native plants in the park, including some of the rarer shrubs and trees, and all are flourishing as if in their native forest”. The accompanying hand-coloured photograph taken about 1906 shows a well-vegetated Pukekura Park. It is reproduced from a post card owned by David Lowe.

The anonymous contributor of a lengthy article in the Taranaki Herald of 19 September 1925 considered that, to the botanist, Pukekura Park opened up “a field more prolific and fascinating than any in the Dominion”. Included with the article is an account of a botanical survey of Pukekura Park which must have been written by a person who was knowledgeable about native plants and the history of plantings in the park. Thomas Horton, who had become Superintendent of the park in 1924, would have been eminently qualified to do so. This account is of the earliest known botanical survey of Pukekura Park. It provides an important record, indeed the only record, of the identity of many of the native plants to be found in the park half a century after the first trees were planted there on 29 May 1876 when the whole area was covered with “fern, furze and tutu”. The account is reproduced here as it appeared in the Taranaki Herald, except that I have corrected one or two minor printer’s errors, and have added the currently accepted scientific names of the plants that are specifically referred to.

Pukekura Park


A Botanical Survey

The park offers a very extensive field for the naturalist, and many fine and rare native trees are growing therein. Kauris (Agathis australis) grow rapidly. One fine specimen is 30ft in height with a trunk five inches in diameter at a distance of four feet from the ground. The tree is seventeen years old. Several good specimens of tanekaha (Phyllocladus trichomanoides) are showing vigorous growth. This is the “celery-topped pine” of Hooker. The three species of totara (Podocarpus spp.) are growing rapidly, and there are groups of fine specimens ranging from five to thirty-five years old. Ages of the rimu trees, of which there are several varieties (Dacrydium spp.), range from thirteen to thirty years. Miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea), planted from ten to twenty-one years ago, are growing robustly and are graceful young forest trees. A charm of the park is the puriri (Vitex lucens) trees, of rapid growth. The most magnificent specimens growing south of Kawhia are in Mr. Newton King’s garden, adjoining the park.


The Pinus insignis (Pinus radiata) trees show the best and straightest growth in New Zealand. There are some splendid specimens of Pinus torreyana, which yields good timber for furniture and general work. The tree is a native of Puget Sound. American redwood pines (Sequoia sempervirens), which produce valuable timber, are showing good growth.


The six species of tree-ferns are most admired by visitors from overseas. Taranaki is the home of the magnificent mamaku (Cyathea medullaris), the king of tree-ferns. There are seven species of native orchids, which are of great interest in the flowering season. The large island at the head of the upper lake was planted with twenty-seven species of native plants twenty-three years ago. With two exceptions they succeeded well, and are a good illustration of the comparative growth of native trees under favourable conditions. There are forty-four species of native ferns and twenty-eight native mosses in the park. Some of both orders are beautiful and rare forms.

The park also contains a fine series of specimens of kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa), kaikawaka (Libocedrus plumosa), kaiwhiria (Hedycarya arborea), kakaramu (Coprosma robusta), kakaha (probably Collospermum hastatum), karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus), karo (Pittosporum crassifolium), kumarahou (Pomaderris kumeraho), kowhai (Sophora spp.) and kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile). Akerautangi (Dodonaea viscosa), hohoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius), horopito (probably Alseuosmia macrophylla), maire (Nestegis spp.), mairehau (Phebalium nudum), monoao (probably Dracophyllum spp.) and mauku (probably Asplenium bulbiferum) grow luxuriantly. Paratawhiti (horse-shoe fern) (Marattia salicina), patete (Schefflera digitata), puahou (Pseudopanax arboreus), putaputaweta (Carpodetus serratus), and puwhaureroa (the bird-catching tree) (Heimerliodendron brunonianum) are well represented. Five species of rata (Metrosideros spp.) - two timber trees and three climbers - flourish. The rangiora (Brachyglottis repanda), rewarewa (Knightia excelsa) and wharangi (Melicope ternata) are very floriferous this season, and are very fine at present.

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


A botanical survey of Pukekura Park which accompanied an article published in the Taranaki Herald of 19 September 1925, appears to be the first detailed listing of plantings in the Park.  It provides the only known record of the identity of the Park’s native plants in the first 50 years following the initial plantings of 1876. Earlier references to the Park’s remarkable native flora are included, along with a hand-coloured photo taken around 1906.  The survey (possibly conducted by Thomas Horton) mentions mamaku and other tree-ferns, native orchids, mosses, native ferns, and native trees such as totara, miro, rimu, pururi, karaka and others.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand, native flora of New Zealand,
Botanical survey, planting inventory, history, rare plants, tourist attraction, historical account.


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