Fagus menziesii, Hook. f
Hook. lc. Pl., t. 652
Brown Birch, White Birch, Red Birch
Although this species exhibits a considerable amount of variation in the shape, toothing and texture of the leaves, it is the most easily recognized of all the New Zealand beeches, especially when the fruit is fairly developed: the curious glandular scales on the valves of the cupules at once distinguish it from the other species, while they show its close affinity to F. gunnii, Hk. f., of Tasmania, F. moorei, Muell., of New South Wales, and F. betuloides, Mirb., of Cape Horn and South Chili.
This forms a fine tree, 60′–80′ feet high, with a trunk 2′–3′ in diameter but larger specimens are by no means unfrequent. The twigs are clothed with a fine brown pubescence; leaves glabrous, rigid, orbicular, or broadly ovate, or rhomboid ovate, shortly petioled, with the margins cut into very short blunt teeth, or more frequently crenate, each crenature being irregularly notched. In the young state the leaves are sometimes deeply toothed, stipules linear-oblong. The valves of the cupule are pubescent and clothed with from 5 to 7 horizontal scales, the margins of which carry a fringe of stalked glands. Nuts trigonous, 3-winged, the wings being divided or fringed at the apex.
In common with all the local species, the bark varies considerably at different periods of growth. Before reaching maturity, the tree is characterized by a thin silvery whitish bark much resembling that of Betula alba, L. This becomes gradually thickened, and rugose, although patches of
smooth bark may often be seen even on the largest trunks. This retention of the smooth bark has led to the adoption of the common name of silver beech for this species.
The timber is of a deep reddish-brown colour, compact in texture, and splits easily. It is well adapted for inside work as rafters, flooring joists, etc., and especially for the manufacture of ordinary furniture, French bedsteads, sideboards, etc.; also for wine casks, tubs, buckets, etc. A considerable demand for these purposes may be anticipated when the progress of road-making has afforded more easy access to the silver beech forests, but at present I am not aware that any timber-merchant considers it worth while to keep the wood in stock. So far as Wellington is concerned, a supply could be obtained from the Rimutaka. When used for fencing purposes it lasts from three to seven years; house blocks in dry ground, and sheltered from the rain, are in a partially decayed state after having been fixed for eleven years. Shingles require renewal at the end of six or seven years.
The silver beech attains its northern limit on the Te Aroha Mountain at the head of the Hauraki Gulf. It is abundant on the mountains of the East Cape, on the Ruahine, Tararua and Rimutaka Ranges, and the Wainui-omata Hills in the North Island. In the South Island it occurs on the Kaikoura Mountains, Mount Arthur Range, Spencer Mountains, and more or less throughout the Southern Alps, especially on their western slopes. In the Makarora Valley it is the only species found between the head of Lake Wanaka and the Haast Pass,-the timber in this district being of decidedly better quality than in the lowlands. The most southern specimens known to me occur at Colac Bay and Lake George in the Longwood district.
Sometimes it forms the chief portion of the forest, but is commonly mixed with, other species. In the south it often occurs singly, or in small quantity in mixed forest, as in the Makarewa district.
It descends to the sea-level at Colac Bay, Dusky Bay, Preservation Inlet, and other places, but is most frequent at elevations between 1,200 and 2,500 feet. Its highest levels are but little above 3,000 feet.
Specimens from humid situations, at low levels on the west coast of the South Island, generally have leaves of thinner texture, and less closely set than those from higher levels. In both these points as well as in the margination, a wide range of variation is exhibited.
This species is subject to a remarkable foliar transformation: crowded panicles of scaly, fulvous bracts are developed at the tips of the branchlets. Usually four scales form a kind of flask-shaped perianth, which is sessile in the axil of a larger bract-like scale, and covers a number of minute scales. These panicles are often produced in great abundance, and present a close resemblance to the early stages of a true inflorescence.