New Zealand Flora
New Zealand has a vast variety of unusual and interesting indigenous plants.
Eighty per cent of the ferns, trees, and flowering plants in the country are endemic to the country – that is, native plants unique to New Zealand.
The country has evolved separately from other land masses for 80 million years, meaning that its flora also evolved in isolation, resulting in some beautiful and unique plants not found anywhere else.
Thus New Zealand’s plants have many distinguishing characteristics – especially that they have evolved into larger forms unlike their relatives in other areas of the
This has also meant that New Zealand’s plants have not developed any defences against mammalian predators – in other words the animals (rodents, stoats, possums) which were introduced when people arrived the country about a thousand years ago. There are very few trees which can tolerate cold, with
the majority being evergreen, flowers are typically small and white, for example, Alpine Flowers, and the majority of the plants are dispersed and pollinated by birds.
Up to 15% of New Zealand’s total land area is covered with native flora - trees, ferns and flowering plants. There are forests with kauri and kohekohe, rainforests with tawa, rimu, beech, matai and rata; ferns and flax, alpine herb fields, dunelands with pingao and spinifex and scrub and tussock.
One species of note is of course the kauri – the country’s largest tree which grows in the northern parts of New Zealand. They are a majestic sight, growing up to 50 metres tall, and the trunks up to 16 metres girth.
They once covered most of the top half of the North Island, an area of up to 1.2
million hectares, but when people arrived, they were decimated – cut down
for tier timber for boats and other building and prized for their gum. The kauri forests now only cover an area of 80,000 hectares.
There is also the distinctive cabbage tree (ti kouka) – which can be found all over the North and South Islands, especially in wet swampy ground. They are 21 to 20 metres high with long narrow leaves and scented flowers in early summer.
Another native plant is of course the iconic fern. New Zealand has a very high proportion of ferns for its climate, and there are about 200 species, including tree ferns 10 metres tall to filmy ferns measuring a mere 20 millimetres. Forty per cent of these species are endemic to New Zealand.
Ferns need a lot of water to grown and thus are usually found in moist forested areas. The fronds (leaves) of ferns are tightly coiled into a tight spiral when young. This shape is called ‘koru’ in Maori and is a national symbol, as well as a feature in some New Zealand designs