Art X.—Notes on Indigenous Materials for the Manufacture of Paper.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 8th December, 1873.]
Doubts having been freely expressed as to whether the Colony possesses a sufficient abundance of raw material for the manufacture of paper to allow of the process being undertaken on a remunerative scale, it may be worth while to call attention to several plants available for the purpose, all of which occur in abundance, and are being yearly destroyed to an enormous extent by the progress of settlement. Several of them could be cultivated so as to afford a regular supply.
Kahakaha, Astelia solandri.—The tree-flax of the settlers; abundant on lofty trees and rocks throughout the Colony; the entire leaf produces a considerable quantity of fibre, and is thickly clothed at the base with silky, shaggy, lustrous hairs; it is usually found on rocks from sea-level to 2,500ft. or 3,000ft., and on the limbs of trees, where, at a distance, it resembles the nest of some huge bird. The leaves are radical, 1ft. to 2ft. long, and produced in large numbers. Hundreds of tons are destroyed on every acre of forest land cleared in the North Island.
Kowharawhara, Astelia banksii and A. cunninghamii, have the habit of the preceding species, but the leaves, although narrower than that plant, are from 3ft. to 6ft. in length, and produce a superior fibre. A. cunninghamii is common on trees and rocks, and A. banksii is found in immense profusion in wooded places by the sea; both occur in abundance in the North Island, but their southern distribution is uncertain.
Kauri-grass, Astelia trinervia.—Perhaps the most abundant of all the species, occasionally forming the chief part of the undergrowth in the northern forests up to 3,000ft., and so dense that it is often difficult to force one's way amongst the interlaced leaves, which are from 3ft. to 8ft. long, and of a paler green tinge than either of the preceding. It could be procured by hundreds of tons, and as, like the other species, it is found in situations not adapted for ordinary cultivated crops, a permanent supply might be fairly calculated upon. Experience has shown that it may be cut yearly.
The leaves of all the species of Astelia are clothed at their base with silky shaggy hairs, and the entire surface is covered with a thin pellicle.
Ti, or cabbage-tree, Cordyline australis.—A shrub or small tree, from 6ft. to 25ft. high, found throughout the Colony, often in immense abundance—as in the Bay of Islands and Waikato districts. This plant is too well known to need description; it is sufficient to state that it produces a large quantity of fibrous material, and might be readily cultivated. An obscure plant closely
allied to this is cultivated for food by the natives of the Upper Wanganui district.
Some years ago leaves of this plant were sent to England and manufactured into paper at one of the Yorkshire mills. The article was highly commended in a trade periodical, and the propriety of importing a constant supply of the raw material steadily advocated. I greatly regret that I have mislaid my reference to the trade circular in which the notice appeared.
Ti ngaherehere, Cordyline banksii.—A much smaller plant than the last, producing fibre of a superior quality, but in smaller quantity. It is abundant on the margin of forests, gullies, etc., throughout the North Island and northern parts of the South Island, and, like the preceding species, could be readily cultivated.
Cutting grasses, Gahnia setifolia and Gahnia ebenocarpa, appear well adapted for the manufacture of coarse papers. The former is abundant in both islands, and could be procured in almost unlimited quantity; the latter is rather local in its distribution, but the tussocks individually afford a larger quantity of leaves, which are often 8ft. in length.
Other sedges and grasses might also be utilized, especially the curious sand-grass, Spinifex hirsutus, and the sand-fescue grass, Festuca littoralis. The last might possibly form a substitute for Esparto. The curious sedge called the pingao, growing on shifting sands, might prove to be valuable; also, the tawera, or New Zealand screw pine, Freycinetia banksii, which is abundant in moist woods, often climbing to the tops of the loftiest trees, and might be procured by thousands of tons. The nikau also appears to offer material suitable for the manufacture of coarse wrapping papers, etc.
I have not mentioned Phormium, since its merits are so well recognized that a company has been formed in Auckland specially for the utilization of its fibre in paper manufacture.
The various species of Celmisia, chiefly known by the settlers as cotton-grass or leather-plant, appear well adapted for our purpose. They are comparatively rare in the North Island, the most common being C. longifolia, which is abundant on the central plains but does not attain a large size; to the north of Auckland it only occurs in isolated localities. In the South Island the genus is plentiful, numerous fine species with large leathery leaves, more or less hairy or woolly, being abundant. I have specimens of C. verbascifolia in my possession, in which the leaves are nearly 2ft. long. C. coriacea, a much commoner species, is perhaps still more valuable.
Although strictly outside the limits of this paper, it may not be amiss to state that at several English mills wheaten straw has, for many years past, been manufactured into paper of good quality, and which has come into general use. At present wheaten straw is of little value in the Colony, so that a
considerable amount of raw material could be obtained at small cost, to the joint benefit of the agriculturist and the manufacturer. Wrapping paper has long been manufactured by the Americans from the flowering sheaths of maize, but this material could scarcely be obtained here in sufficient quantity to be made available by the manufacturer.