W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso



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§I. Preliminary.


1. It is very nearly a century since the Botany of New Zealand first became known to science. On the north-west shore of Poverty Bay, in the evening of Sunday the 8th of October, 1769, (being early summer) Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander (then first landing with Captain Cook) had the pleasure and privilege of beholding and gathering the first floral specimens of (what they then believed to be) the vegetation of the great terra australis incognita. That was truly a Botanical æra; when the queen of natural science (through the efforts of the immortal Linnæus and his zealous disciples, aided by their royal patrons and promoters), vigorously flourished, and bore those pleasing and useful fruits which have come down with such good results to our own times. All those early Naturalists in the New Zealand field, to whom her Flora is so much indebted,—Banks, Solander, Sparmann, and the two Forsters (father and son), were all disciples and correspondents of Linnæus.—When the writer, in January, 1838, first visited those forests at “Howa-howa” (Uaua) Tolaga Bay, (whence the earliest specimens of fine plants peculiar to New Zealand were first obtained by those Botanists) a deep reverential undescribable feeling stole over him, on treading the same ground which Banks and Solander and Cook had trod, and on viewing the remarkable cliffs and trees, on which they had often gazed and visited and sketched. A feeling, heightened, doubtless, through conversing with the few old New Zealanders still dwelling there, who had seen and recollected those patriarchs of British enterprise in New Zealand. This present year of grace, 1864, has been lately signalized by Great Britain and the civilized world as that of the Tercentenary Commemoration of the immortal British Poet “of all nations and of all time”; and, surely, five years hence, the Colonists of New Zealand will suitably commemorate the Centenary landing of the adventurous and [2] celebrated British Navigator Cook,—the great Navigator of and for all Nations,—on these shores with his illustrious band of devoted disciples of Natural Science. For, although many a Botanist has followed in their steps in New Zealand, yet none has equalled them,—whether the obstacles which impeded, or the fruits of their labours, or their devotedness to their calling, or the correctness of their views,—be duly considered.

2. But it is only during the nineteenth century that insular Botany has begun to receive that attention which it demands. It could not advantageously have been studied much earlier; and even now it may justly be said to be in its infancy. Island Floras with their geology and climate, have to be more fully explored and made known; and species have to be more clearly defined; and the bounds of varieties ascertained; and the innate powers of a plant to evolve and change under favorable natural conditions, have to be better understood, ere many important questions can be satisfactorily answered. Yet that day will come. Every natural fact collected and recorded by the true lover of science is a step towards it. The Sphinx, Nature, is daily being evoked by her faithful sons; and her answers, always extorted and always correct, (though not always interpreted correctly,) are being registered for future generations. To us it appears strange, that a species should be found here, (in New Zealand,) and its like only at the Antipodes; or, perhaps, at one of the two great Southern Capes of America, or Africa; or, which is far more probable, only at some small islet,—a mere speck in the oceanic waste of waters,—as Juan Fernandez, or Easter Island,—the Falkland Islands, or Tristan d’ Acunha;—St. Paul’s, or Amsterdam;—Kerguelen’s Land, or Norfolk Island. Is it the very same identical species; or is it only similar? If it is similar, has it become changed through climate situation and soil? and, if so, how much more may it not change? If the same, were there more than one original germ of its kind? If only one, in which spot was it first? and how many ages rolled by ere it was first found in the other? and how many more before it became common therein? Or, were the present widely dissevered localities then one Continent?231 and, if so, how long a period did it require for the said one germ to reach its present outermost range—assuming such germ to have been originally placed in its centre? If not from one germ but many; were all, required for the various localities, created together? or, some earlier, some later? and, if so, which localities were the earlier, which the later supplied? Does every island, or island [3] group, far from any mainland, contain genera and species peculiar to itself,232 (among many which are con-generic with others in the nearest, though far off, land) and thereby constitute a Botanical centre, or region? Were all existing species created at once? or, are species still being created? or, has such creation ceased? and, if so, when? Are all the so-called generic or specific distinctions really such? Has a species a power of evolution and metamorphosis per se; which, the factors, time, suitable soils, and climate, being given, knows no bounds? Have there been in past æras any potent occult elemental causes at work, differing only in intensity combination and constancy from what now are, through which sub-varieties, varieties and species were the more readily evolved? May not a plant be outwardly distinct, yet chemically the same? May a plant be almost entirely outwardly the same with another, and yet chemically distinct? May not Nature educe, under the most favorable circumstances, from two genera slightly differing fertile plants forming new genera more divergent? and may not such (again crossed by Nature) produce plants still more widely differing? Why, among several species of any given endemic genus (e. g. Coprosma, Dracophyllum, Veronica) should some species be of robust and vigorous growth-and development, and common everywhere; other species of weakly growth and development, and comparatively scarce? are some of these forms older than others? and, if so, which are the seniors? Are not the more robust and vigorous ones, through their own progressive increase, likely to extirpate the weaker ones? - - - - - Such are some of the thoughts which must often arise in the intelligent Botanist’s mind, especially when contemplating new or old forms in far off insular situations.


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