Fagus fusca, Hook. f.
Hook. Ic. Pl., t. 631.
Black Birch of Auckland and in part of Otago and Southland.
Black or Bull Birch of Lake Wakatipu.
Red Birch of Wellington, Nelson, and in part of Otago and Southland.
It is not easy to see why any difficulty should have occurred in the identification of this fine timber-tree apart from the misleading tendency of the common names generally applied. The thin yet firm texture of the leaf, the prominent veins, the sharply-toothed margins, are characters that can only be confused with those afforded by other species by a careless observer. Yet merely owing to the use of common names based upon colour, and applied or rather misapplied to the leaves, bark, or wood at the fancy of the bushman, no species has been more misunderstood.
The tooth-leaved beech forms a fine tree 70–100 feet with a trunk from 3 to 8 feet in diameter, the bark varying greatly in colour and rugosity in different localities and at different stages of growth. In the north and in lowland situations in the south it is usually blackish, but in sub-alpine localities the prevailing tint is of a rich deep brown. In the young state it is smooth and whitish.
The wood varies in colour but is usually reddish or reddish-black, stout in the grain. It is one of the strongest and most durable timbers in the colony.
In the young state the twigs are pubescent, leaves oblong-ovate, shortly petioled, with rathar large acute teeth; pubescent or glandular when young. Cupules with membranous scales at the back; nuts winged, the wings being divided at the apex.
Varieties with the teeth more or less abbreviated are occasionally met with, but on the whole these are rare and can scarcely be mistaken for either of the entire-leaved forms by an observer of ordinary intelligence.**
The good qualities of this timber are so generally admitted that it is needless to discuss the question or offer further evidence on the subject. On the Thames Gold Field it has been so generally appreciated by the miners that it has now become extremely rare and is said to be extinct in some localities where it was once plentiful. I may add that I have examined stock-yard fences which have been erected twenty-one years, and which are still in good condition.
This is the most widely distributed of the species; it extends from Ahipara in the extreme north to Southland, in many southern localities forming the greater portion of the forest. In the South Island it is more plentiful on the western side of the main range than on the eastern, and is decidedly rare in the central districts: in Canterbury its chief habitat is in the mountain district between the Waimakariri Gorge and Bealey, where it
[Footnote] * Hook. Ic. Pl., t. 630.
forms the chief portion of a zone ranging from about 2,400 to 3,000 feet, extending up the valley of the Poulter and adjacent ranges. Between the Cass River and Bealey it is so strongly marked in contrast with the mountain beech that it can readily be descried from the terraces on the southern bank of the river. As its occurrence in the interior of Canterbury had been warmly denied, Mr. Blair, the Directing Engineer for the South Island, suggested that I should finally determine the point by an examination of the growing timber. When on a visit to the district in January, 1881, I had the pleasure of carrying out this suggestion in company with my friend Mr. J. D. Enys, and found the tooth-leaved beech occurring freely between the limits already stated, mixed with mountain beech which forms the greater portion of the forest. Most of the mature specimens were from 50 to 70 feet high, with clear unbranched trunks of from 35 to 45 feet, measuring 10 feet in girth at six feet from the ground. The oldest specimens were unsound in the middle, but the shell was firm and hard. Trunks cut down twelve years before the date of my visit and left on the ground were still perfectly sound, the logs retaining the wedges that had been driven to split them. Subsequently I examined a stock-yard fence constructed with timber cut at this spot at the time to which I have referred, and found all the posts of tooth-leaved beech in a perfectly satisfactory state, sound and good; while it had been found necessary to renew all the posts of mountain beech at the end of six years, and the renewed portion was in bad condition, requiring immediate replacement, many of the rails even being worthless.
This species is not found in the Oxford and Alford Forests, although reported to occur there by Mr. Robertson, who was instructed to examine those forests in October, 1876.
It descends to the sea-level in many localities, as Ahipara, Kawau, Omaha, Wairoa East, etc., but rarely in large quantities. It is more abundant and attains larger dimensions at elevations between 1,200 and 3,000 feet, and in a few localities ascends to 3,800 feet, which, so far as I am aware, is the greatest altitude which it attains.