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NZ Plants

1850 to 1899


  • Canterbury settlement formed
  • Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are repeatedly released during the next 10 years.


  • Catholic priests establish the first vineyards in Hawke's Bay and the oldest winemaking enterprise in New Zealand, the Mission Vineyard, is descended from these ventures.


  • John Buchanan, artist and botanist, arrives at Port Chalmers from Scotland on the Columbus.
  • The Auckland Museum is founded in Grafton by J. A. Smith.


  • Methodist clergyman Thomas Cheeseman arrives in Auckland on the Artemisia with his wife and son, Thomas Frederick Cheeseman. Thomas Frederick later becomes a keen observer and collector of plants in his adopted country.
  • First seed drill used, at Lyttelton.
  • 829 tons of kauri gum are exported. Much of the gum is now being dug from ‘gum fields', areas in Northland where extensive groves of kauri grew in the past. Some is obtained by ‘bleeding' living trees and collecting the resin that accumulates; this often results in premature death of trees when done in excess.
  • ‘Murihiku Purchase' finalised by Walter Mantell, covering lands south of a line from Nugget Point to Milford Sound. This opens up vast tracts of land to settlement in Southland.


  • The Wellington Provincial Government passes the Colony's first antiweed legislation, "An Act to prevent the propagation of certain plants known as thistles".
  • Rangitoto Island, 8 km northeast of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf, is purchased by the Crown from Māori. In 1890 this becomes a Public Domain.


  • The Wairarapa earthquake, the largest (magnitude 8 - 8.2) since commencement of European settlement, strikes the southern tip of the North Island with major vertical uplifts as great as 6 m. Extensive fissuring in coastal plains and valleys, massive landslides and tsunami cause extensive damage.
  • Richard Taylor publishes Te Ika a Maui or New Zealand and its Inhabitants with a chapter on botany, including food and medicinal plants.


  • Charles Knight begins work on lichens and between 1860 and 1884 publishes 16 papers on lichens and 2 on mosses. His lichen collection of around 290 volumes is now in the Dominion Museum, Wellington.


  • Export of kauri gum reaches 2,500 tonnes annually and earns more than kauri timber, wool or gold up until 1900.


  • 59,000 European settlers living in New Zealand.
  • The Austrian frigate Novara arrives in the Waitemata Harbour with the eminent geologist and writer Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter on board. Hochstetter and fellow geologist, Julius von Haast spend several months exploring the Auckland district, Central Plateau and the Nelson area before Hochstetter returns to Europe in 1859.
  • Andrew Sinclair returns to New Zealand to collect further material for Hooker and the following year is elected to Fellow of the Linnean Society.


  • Gorse is recognised as a serious pest. The Provincial Governments of Nelson and Taranaki pass laws requiring farmers to keep gorse hedges trimmed and banning the planting of new hedges.


  • Māori involvement in agriculture on the North Island has become insignificant.
  • New Zealand Wars of the 1860's. Māori resistance to the continued pressure to sell land results in extensive clashes with imperial troops in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.
  • Predominant use of land on both North and South Islands is now pastoral.
  • Acclimatisation societies are first established (Auckland 1861, Nelson 1863, Wanganui 1863, Canterbury 1864, Hawke's Bay 1867, Southland 1867) and proceed to introduce fish, frogs, birds, marsupials, mammals, ferns, trees and flowers for sport, pleasure and the table. These introductions have a serious impact on indigenous species in future years.
  • Otago gold rush brings a sudden increase in population and a five fold increase in land devoted to crops.
  • The pastoral boom continues with tussock land on the South Island now supporting over 2 million sheep (a further 700,000 are on the North Island).
  • Feral honey bee colonies are now common in the bush.
  • On the North Island, the trend toward extensive grazing land is underway with 1.5 times as much land devoted to sown grass as there is to crops.


  • Julius Haast is appointed provincial geologist to Canterbury and explores the mountains of Canterbury and part of Westland, naming the Franz Josef Glacier, discovering coalfields and gold-bearing areas as well as the pass that keeps his name. He is joined by Andrew Sinclair and many specimens of new species are collected. Sinclair drowns crossing the Rangitātā River. Haast is eventually appointed as Director of the Canterbury Museum.


  • Dr James Hector, surgeon, geologist and naturalist arrives in Dunedin and is appointed Director of the Geological Survey of Otago.
  • Hector appoints John Buchanan draughtsman and botanist to the Survey; Buchanan accompanies Hector collecting high-mountain plants near the Otago fiords. Buchanan accumulates large plant collections and produces fine botanical sketches. His Botanical Notes on the Kaikoura Mountains and Mount Egmont is published in 1867 and the paper 'Sketch of the botany of Otago" is published in 1869. His three volume work, The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand, is published 1878-1880 and describes 87 species.
  • Governor Sir George Grey purchases Kawau Island 40 km north of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf. For the next 25 years hundreds of exotic trees are planted and many exotic animals are introduced.


  • Thomas Kirk, nurseryman and botanist, arrives in Auckland with his family and becomes an avid collector of plants as he performs his duties as a surveyor.
  • Founding of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens with the planting of an English oak tree commemorating the visit of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandria. Today the Gardens comprise 30 hectares with tropical and desert plants grown in extensive glasshouses.
  • The founding of the Dunedin Botanic Garden along the Water of Leith stream. Today the Garden consists of 28 ha and several conservatories.
  • Henry Travers commences a botanical expedition to the Chatham Islands that lasts for several months. The flora is unknown except for a few species collected by Dieffenbach in 1840. Travers brings back many plants including the giant forget-me-not (Myosotidium hortensia).


  • Publication of Joseph Hooker's Handbook of the New Zealand Flora commences and is completed in 1867. A two volume work, it includes descriptions of plants sent to Hooker by Buchanan, Colenso, Haast , Sinclair, W.& H. Travers and others. Part I deals with flowering plants and ferns, part II with mosses, Hepaticae and lower Cryptogams. A total of 935 species of flowering plants and 135 species of ferns are described. This remains the only flora covering all plant groups.
  • Gold discovered on the West Coast of the South Island. However, heavy forest, adverse climate and lack of fertile soils results in little increase in farming despite a surge in population.
  • Release of fallow deer (Dama dama) at Aniseed Valley, Nelson. Subsequent releases on both islands result in this becoming the most widespread deer in the country after red deer.
  • The Waikato War finishes and is followed by Māori land confiscations in the Waikato, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay.


  • Capital moves from Auckland to Wellington.
  • The Colonial Museum in Wellington, including an herbarium, is established with James Hector, Director. John Buchanan is responsible for developing the herbarium.
  • The Botany of the North Island by Colenso is published in his New Zealand Exhibition Essays.
  • Hector is appointed the first director of the New Zealand Geological Survey.


  • An act of Parliament establishes the New Zealand Institute for the Advancement of Science and Art. The journal, Transactions, commences two years later and provides a means of publication for local botanists. James Hector is the first Manager and Buchanan is artist and lithographer of the first 19 volumes.
  • Thomas Kirk commences botanical expeditions (Great and Little Barrier Islands in 1867, the east coast of Northland in 1868, the Thames goldfield in 1869, Waikato in 1870, Rotorua and Taupō in 1872), and writes and publishes prolifically. The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography describes him as being "for more than three decades the leader of botanical inquiry in New Zealand".
  • 450 tonnes of Pacific island guano is imported to New Zealand as fertilizer.
  • Hochstetter's classic work, New Zealand, Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History, published in 1863 in Stuttgart, is translated.
  • New Zealand Department of Agriculture releases ferrets into the wild to control rabbits.


  • The Auckland Museum is placed in the care of the Auckland Institute. Thomas Kirk becomes secretary of the Auckland Institute and curator of the Auckland Museum, a position he holds for five years.
  • By this time mechanical strippers have been perfected for dressing flax leaves and the flax industry enters into a period of rapid growth.


  • Botanic Gardens Act creates the Colonial Botanic Gardens in Wellington as a national research facility for importing and testing plants for their economic potential. James Hector is Manager of the Gardens until 1891. In 1891 management is transferred to the Wellington City Council and the Garden functions solely as a civic amenity that today covers 25 hectares of gardens in Thorndon, Wellington.
  • The University of Otago is established.


  • The New Zealand Wars come to an end. Remaining forested areas in the lower North Island are made available for settlement on land newly acquired from Māori. Large scale felling of trees supports a trade in timber. Draining of swamps and burning of scrub contribute to the conversion of land to pastoral use.
  • 85 % of cultivated land is in sown grass
  • Spread of dairy farms in the North Island.
  • Sheep numbers increase to over 16 million and wool becomes the biggest single export.
  • Overgrazing by sheep and rabbits in the South Island high country results in widespread reduction of native tussock grasses.
  • Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are introduced from England over the next 10 years to pollinate red clover, an important pastoral crop.
  • In the South Island a wheat bonanza results in much tussock grassland being ploughed and converted to cropland.
  • Thomas Kirk moves to Wellington, lectures at Wellington College, serves several terms as governor of the New Zealand Institute and lectures at the Lincoln College of Agriculture in Canterbury. He collects specimens in Arthur's Pass, Banks Peninsula, Lake Wakatipu, and Stewart Island. He estimates that nearly 300 new plants have been introduced to New Zealand by Europeans.


  • Opening of the Canterbury Museum in the government domain in Christchurch which contains Julius Haast's extensive collection of mineral and biological specimens. Haast is appointed the first director.
  • The Vogel Government starts a major public works, railways and immigration programme.
  • Act of Parliament establishes the University of New Zealand (this is modified by another Act in 1874)
  • An herbarium is established at the Auckland Institute and Museum.


  • First co-operative dairy factory established in New Zealand at Springfield, Otago.


  • Donald Petrie arrives in New Zealand, becomes a school inspector and uses his travels as an opportunity to botanise and collect specimens.
  • 37,000 rabbit skins are exported from New Zealand.


  • Thomas Frederick Cheeseman, active in collecting and studying plants on the North Island, becomes secretary of the New Zealand Institute and curator of the Auckland Museum. He is associated with the Museum for the next 50 years and his collections become an important component of the herbarium.
  • Act of Parliament sets up the University of New Zealand with the constituent University College of Otago (formerly the University of Otago) in Dunedin and Canterbury University College in Christchurch.
  • New Zealand Forests Act allows for the creation of state forests. However, six years later only 7 % of forested Crown land had been gazetted as forest reserves.


  • Apple orchards receive a severe setback as the American blight (woolly apple aphid) becomes prevalent about this time.
  • The Taranaki Provincial Council passes the Botanical Gardens and Public Recreation Grounds Bill setting aside 35 acres of wasteland in New Plymouth. The next year this is officially opened as Pukekura Park and within 20 years is enlarged to 50 ha of native and exotic trees, ferns and herbaceous plants.
  • Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) are released near the Rangitikei River south of the town of Bulls in the Manawatu. Later introductions are near Rotorua.


  • Canterbury Agricultural College is established at Lincoln, Canterbury.
  • Mataura Paper mill near Gore in the South Island opens using native tussock grass, flax fibre, rags, sacks and old rope to make paper; the oldest operating mill in New Zealand, it closes in 2000.
  • The number of rabbit skins exported reaches 3,951,000, compared with 918,000 the previous year.


  • Donald Petrie and G.M.Thomson make the first systematic collection of flora on Stewart Island.
  • W.T.L. Travers notes that extensive areas of coastal land leased for cattle and sheep grazing are being invaded by sand dunes.
  • Canterbury Agricultural College becomes the Lincoln School of Agriculture at Canterbury University and opens with Departments of Natural Science and Agricultural Botany.
  • Rabbit numbers reach plague proportions across the Canterbury tussock lands where the indigenous vegetation has been depleted by burning and over grazing. This is despite the introduction of weasels, stoats and ferrets which have an adverse effect on native birds.


  • Leonard Cockayne arrives in New Zealand. In 1892 he purchases 2 ha of Christchurch dune country and raises and exchanges exotic plants from around the world.


  • Poor Knights Islands, 22 km off of Tutakaka on the east coast of the North Island, are purchased by the Crown and declared a lighthouse reserve a year later. They are the remains of large lava domes rising 240 m from the sea and consist of two main islands (total of 173 ha) plus several islets.
  • Introduction of refrigeration in dairy factories stimulates large scale land clearing.
  • First export of frozen meat arrives Britain.


  • Auckland University College established with a Department of Natural Science. Professor A.W.P. Thomas teaches biology, geology and agricultural science.
  • The area sown in wheat peaks at over 391,000 acres. The main wheat growing area is Canterbury.
  • An Account of Visits to the Ruahine Mountain Range by Colenso is published.


  • From about 1885 (through to the 1950s) kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) is milled to make butter boxes.
  • State Forests Act mandates the establishment of scenic reserves.


  • One third of New Zealand (22 million acres) is still covered by forest.
  • Thomas Kirk is Chief Conservator of Forests until 1888 He sets about to reduce wasteful misuse of state forests and to establish various kinds of reserves.
  • On 10 June the largest volcanic eruption since European settlement occurs. Mt Tarawera outside Rotorua on the North Island erupts. This is accompanied by a large hydrothermal eruption in nearby Lake Rotomahana, destroying the spectacular pink and white silica terraces. The eruptions release large amounts of ash, hot scoria and mud that buried 15,000 square kilometers of countryside extending 24 km north east of the mountain, destroying all vegetation and killing 100 people.


  • Ngāti Tūwharetoa chief Horonuku Patatai (Te Heuheu Tūkino IV) gifts the central North Island volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu to the Crown to form New Zealand's first national park, Tongariro National Park, and the world's fourth national park. The Park today consists of 79,598 ha of tussock-land, ash-pumice desert, alpine vegetation and lush lowland forest.
  • The Stella is dispatched to annex the Kermadec Islands 1000 km northeast from the tip of the North Island. Thomas Cheeseman accompanies the expedition which also visits the Three Kings Islands where he finds several new species. A return visit to the Three Kings is made two years later.


  • Thomas Kirk's illustrated The Forest Flora of New Zealand is published. This contains botanical descriptions, distribution, uses and value of native trees and shrubs.