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Volume 10, 1877
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Art. LXII.—Notes on three dried Specimens of Matai (Podocarpus spicata.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 4th August, 1877.]

These specimens were handed to me for examination by Captain J. Campbell-Walker, F.R.G.S., who received them from A. P. Seymour, Esq., M.H.R.

1. Pelorus Valley.—“Large tree over 4 feet diameter; sapwood ¾ inch. Difference between heart and sap clearly marked. Cut down March 20th, gathered April 12th. No fruit on it. This timber is very hard, heavy, and durable in ground,—the best of its class. I would use it for posts without hesitation.”

This specimen was taken from a mature pistillate tree and exhibits numerous young fruit. The durability of the timber is due to its maturity, as evidenced by the large size and small quantity of sap.

2. Locality not stated.—“Wood very pale red; 3 inches of sap; line between heart and sap not at all distinctly marked; tree 18 inches diameter; cut April 1st; fruit on it sparsely scattered. This wood is very inferior; prey to large white grubs; gathered April 12th, 1877.”

Taken from a young (pistillate) tree as shown by the comparatively small diameter and large proportion of indeterminate sap-wood, amounting to one-third of the entire diameter, so that the inferiority of the timber is easily accounted for.

Matai timber of all ages is liable to the attacks of larvæ, more especially when cut during the growing season; young timber to a greater degree than old.

3. Pelorus Valley.—“Three feet diameter; cut about April 1st; timber red, not very dark; sap 2.½ inches thick; difference between sap and heart not well marked. This in my opinion is inferior. I would not use it for posts. Gathered April 12th. No fruit on tree.”

The specimen was taken from a staminate tree, the timber of which, judging from the large amount of indeterminate sap-wood, was not well matured. In respect of durability the timber of this tree would prove intermediate between Nos. 1 and 2, but nearer the first.

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Of course the opinions here given are based merely upon the foliage specimens taken in connection with the facts stated, and therefore might possibly be modified on an examination of the timber.

As a general rule small matai, say under 2 feet in diameter, must not be expected to prove of great durability, except perhaps when grown in rocky soils.

The relative durability of timber produced by different trees of the same kind, depends upon two primary causes—age, which gives maturity, and the conditions of growth so far as they conduce to lignification or otherwise.

It is a common idea amongst bushmen, that in matai, as in other New Zealand pines which produce the staminate and pistillate inflorescence upon separate trees, one form alone affords valuable timber, but unhappily they never agree as to which form produces the durable timber and which the worthless. As a matter of fact there is no evidence to show that either form is more valuable than the other, nor at present is there evidence to warrant the conclusion that any variety of matai affords more valuable timber than another: all the differences to which attention has yet been drawn may be shown to arise from the degree of maturity, conditions of growth, time of falling, seasoning, or some other cause capable of easy determination when the facts of the case are clearly ascertained.