Address by the Chairman,
Botany in Post-War New Zealand
The occasion of a scientific congress, such as we are holding in Wellington, is an appropriate time to review the position of the botanical sciences and to record one's views as to what should be done in the future. Besides an unbelievable upset in material things due to a world war lasting six years, there has been a great disturbance in men's minds, a kind of shaking up, causing a greater proportion of the people to become aware that their knowledge of things about them is deficient. More and more people are, I believe, realising that they must educate themselves for taking their place in a new and more complicated world. More realise that it is necessary, if they are to maintain positions in the forefront of world progress, to be properly equipped as regards scientific knowledge. And so we find to-day an increasing demand for scientific and technical education.
The demands of war itself have led to notable advances in almost all branches of science. This has made life more complex and thus increased the necessity for scientific qualifications. Indeed the desire for education is one of the most hopeful signs for the future peace of the world, for the wider a man's knowledge, the more rational he becomes and the better he will understand the peoples of other nations. A general uplift in education, I am sure, will improve international relations, while, if the movement is world wide, it will help to bring about what we all desire, namely, a world of peace and safety.
During the war there was little expansion of research work other than that connected with essential industries. Now with normal conditions returning, it is hoped that facilities will be increased for carrying out all kinds of research, though some years may elapse before money and personnel will be available for much expansion. Improvements in the pay of research workers is necessary to halt the drain that continually goes on of New Zealand scientists taking up overseas positions.
We must therefore see that the tide of scientific research in New Zealand goes on with increasing momentum, and if other countries will do the same a world-wide basis should be provided for nations to work harmoniously together. In this way will the ground be prepared for freer interchanges across international boundaries. Surely it will be the increase of knowledge that eventually will undermine the wall that now divides the world into two. In a world daily becoming more thirsty for information, the flood of knowledge continually being released by research workers must
gradually be absorbed by an ever-increasing number of people and thus become a powerful solvent in welding the nations of the world into one forward cultural movement. It has often been remarked that science knows no frontiers, so let us hope that this ever remains true, for in this spirit should be found the common grounds that will bring together Hindu and Moslem, Jew and Arab, Russian and Western European, Dutch and Indonesian, and that will terminate other international hold-ups.
With these general remarks on knowledge and world conditions I will restrict my subject to botanical science and the community, and endeavour to answer such questions as: What is the place of botany in our culture? What is being done to increase our knowledge of plant life, especially in its relation to human welfare? and What avenues are open and should be taken in future research?
I might begin by referring to the value of botany as a discipline for mental training. I have many times argued that some of the subjects over which secondary-school children spend much time and energy are practically never afterwards used, and instanced foreign languages and pre-modern history. The reply usually has been that, besides being useful, these subjects are good for mental training. But mental discipline of this sort may defeat its own ends. The mental training derived from the use of restricted subjects, that is, those that have no openings for research related to the present-day world, are just those which restrict mental habits, and people with restricted outlooks are liable to oppose all innovations. This is why the promulgation of scientific knowledge has for so long been held up. If we want subjects that are useful in our daily lives and at the same time are good for mental training, I suggest that we cannot do better than select those that teach us about the present-day world into which we have to fit our lives. In the list I would give a high place to biology and especially to botany, because (1) plants form the very basis of our economy, (2) they are excellent for teaching the fundamentals of living matter of which we ourselves are composed, and (3) botany provides a pleasant means of training in scientific method and in habits of observation, and encourages a desire to discover new knowledge. This type of mental training should be held necessary for everyone, not just for those who intend to follow a career in biology.
This leads me to the subject of the teaching of botany in schools and universities. The period of primary education is in many respects the most important in the formation of a child's character and mental habits. It is the time when ideas affecting the relations of the child to his fellow beings and to the world around him are being fixed. Looking over the New Zealand Education Department's syllabus of instruction for primary schools, one finds that the course is excellent. The child is given a broad groundwork in general knowledge and in essential topics for character training. Nature study is allotted a generous share of the school work. The scheme for nature study by seasons begins at autumn, and of the thirty-five topics listed for the year, thirteen are wholly or partly botanical subjects. Until a few years ago this good work stopped
on the pupil passing to the secondary school, where he could and did go through this period without learning anything about living things, though his whole future life would be intimately associated with and dependent on life of some sort. This great defect was remedied as much as could be expected by the new syllabus brought in a few years ago, when science was made compulsory and one-third of the time spent on science must be devoted to biology. This was a great advance and led to the present more satisfactory state of affairs. Still, owing to past educational practice the proportion of the present adult population that has had no training in biology since attending the primary school must be very high. This can only mean a correspondingly restricted outlook on life and could account for much of the lack of understanding about ourselves and our relations with other peoples.
With regard to University teaching in botany I need make few remarks. The course gives a good grounding in the subject, about as much as can be absorbed in the time allowed. It might perhaps be more directly related to New Zealand conditions, and especially to the basic industries of agriculture, horticulture, forestry and animal production, and to the native flora. This would mean giving a wider meaning to ecology and allowing more time for this subject. Finally, there might be more thorough instruction in botany for those taking zoology for the medical course.
The use of botanical knowledge made by the adult population ought to be more general. Plants form the basis of most of the commercial productions of New Zealand. Taking the products of plants and animals, 13 per cent, are plant and 87 per cent, animal. The animal products all depend on plant food, for our principal domesticated animals are cattle and sheep, while our secondary animals, namely, pigs, rabbits and bees are also vegetable feeders. Timber, mostly from wild trees, amounts to about one-third the value of agricultural products (not including pastoral products).
These figures are introduced to show that plants take a major part in our economy, and from this viewpoint it is important that we have a general understanding of botany. Our industries are now so fully based on knowledge acquired by the scientific method that the producer whether he be agriculturalist, horticulturalist, forester or pastoralist, needs to have a grounding in the fundamentals of his profession, and an essential part of that groundwork must be botanical knowledge. Similarly, botany is an essential part of the scientific equipment of those whose professions deal with medicine, pharmacy, organic chemistry, and so on. Nor should be overlooked the administrators of our natural reservations for the preservation of the native plants and animals of New Zealand, whose knowledge of the contents of their cares is not always adequate.
I will now pass on to what in the future should be the most important work in botany: that is, the wresting of new facts from nature. We call it research. Usually, we direct our research to a particular end, but occasionally in doing this something surprising and quite unlooked for comes to light. In a general way, we know
a fair amount about plants, but there is still a vast field to explore in the ecology, life history and special physiology of the different species.
I cannot find that much has been published on the physiology of New Zealand native plants. There are a number of ecological papers, but these are in the main observational studies on plant associations accompanied by anatomical work. Little has been done on the water relation—intake, conduction within the plant, storage and transpiration—although the New Zealand native flora provides peculiar examples of plants with extraordinary adaptations to unfavourable conditions. I might refer to such plants as the vegetable sheep of the dry, not always too dry, and windswept mountain regions. Then there are shingle slips with plants in colours simulating the rocks among which they live. Valuable information throwing light on questions of evolution might come out of physiological and anatomical studies on our mountain plants. In nutrition the whole subject of root nodules and mycorhiza in the New Zealand flora needs investigation. Though work on the chemistry of our native plants has been spasmodic, some interesting facts have come to light, and in the case of one species, the tutu, experimental observations on the alkaloid tutin have been carried out and the results published.
There is, then, no doubt that there is a field of some interest for physiological work on the native flora of New Zealand. The question is how and where this work can be carried out. I suggest that it should be done in the University colleges or under their direction. Doubtless, extra room and equipment will be required and specialists in physiology may be wanted for teaching. Also, one or more biological stations would need to be established, temporarily or permanently. Students doing honours work might begin the longer investigations and others carry them on. Honours students generally want a piece of work that they can finish in two years, but surely they can get their thesis from part of a long investigation.
The second subject for research is systematics, but of this I shall speak only of the ferns and flowering plants. The latest complete flora of New Zealand is the second edition of Cheeseman's Manual of the New Zealand Flora, published by the Government in 1925. Since that time the conception of the systematic status of many kinds of New Zealand plants has been revised. Cheeseman placed the whole flora under species and varieties. We now know that many of the native plants of New Zealand, or of any other part of the world, cannot all be forced into these taxonomic units. Many species as formerly accepted by botanists are now known to be hybrids, in one case, Coprosma cunninghamii, actual proof of this having been obtained by the experiments of Dr. H. H. Allan. Two instances of another taxonomic problem may be given. Allan Cunningham, in 1838, described three species of Mida (Fusanus in Cheeseman's Manual). Cheeseman treated these as one species, and this present-day botanists would accept with the observation that the leaves are of very different shapes. Similarly Cunningham
described eight species of Alseuosmia. Cheeseman admitted four only, and a good deal of taxonomic ingenuity is still required to settle the question as to how we should list them under our nomenclatural rules.
Other taxonomic species might turn out to be habitat forms, that is, those that are induced by the station in which they live and are capable of returning to normality when transferred to a different, usually more favourable, habitat.
Accordingly, the next Flora will have to adopt the new knowledge, even if it makes a more complicated account. But we must, in any case, attempt to the best of our ability to describe what is actually found in nature. This means that to complete the systematic work on the flora of New Zealand the whole of the species will require to be examined from the point of view of the latest ideas, while, as often as can be, experiments should be carried out to test our conclusions. Moreover, the great collections of plants in Europe and the United States containing types of New Zealand species would need to be studied. Although there is a tremendous amount of work to be done on the systematics of New Zealand plants, a new Flora, based on the knowledge of the present and the immediate future, is urgently required. At the present rate of selling, the stock of Cheeseman's Flora in the hands of the Government Printer will be exhausted in about four years. But it is not only a new Flora that is wanted. Such a work is intended mainly for the experienced botanist. Books suitable for the use of the beginner and books for the general public are badly needed. A good book for pupils of secondary schools, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides is now a necessity.
Systematic botanical work requires the accumulation of large, in fact almost unlimited, collections of dried specimens, and there must be gardens for studying the life history of the species and for carrying out work on hybridization. In my experience, the proper institutions for caring for study collections are museums, because they are the most readily accessible to the public. Museums are usually supported from public monies, while there are more members of the public than there are regular botanists that make use of the museum plant collections. We want to encourage a widespread interest in our native plants, and so our national collections need to be where the public naturally make their inquiries and where they will find facilities for study. It is imperative, therefore, that in the near future more room is provided in the museums of the Dominion, increases are made in the staffs, and, what is equally important, more active interest is taken by the public, who do not always realise what they can gain by using the museums. Only public interest will ensure that valuable collections will come in to the museums instead, as too often happens, of being diverted elsewhere.
At the present time collections of dried plants of considerable size are to be found in the Auckland Museum, Dominion Museum, Canterbury Museum, Auckland University College, and Botany Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The valuable collection made by T. Kirk was a few years ago transferred from Victoria University College to the Dominion Museum. There should be a herbarium in every city of 20,000 people and upwards. We have thus a long way to go before reference collections of native plants are generally available for the use of the public, of horticulturalists and of schools.
With regard to botanical gardens I do not intend to say much. Every centre of population has its public gardens, quite commonly labelled botanical gardens. But this does not mean that the aim of the gardens is to gather together named collections of plants. I am doubtful, too, whether there is in New Zealand a public garden whose policy is to import on any extensive scale new plants for trial in this climate as to their suitability for economic or ornamental purposes. These remarks alone are sufficient to indicate that opportunities lie ahead for advances in the functions of our botanical gardens. The time thus seems to have arrived for considering the establishment of a garden that will vie with those at Kew, Capetown, Sydney, Singapore, and other cities of the British Commonwealth.
A subject that is of deep interest to New Zealanders is the conservation of our native flora. A quarter of a century's work throughout New Zealand by the Royal Society, the Forest and Bird. Protection Society, the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, botanical societies and other institutions has, I believe, resulted in a degree of forest consciousness that has not only come to stay, but is increasing. The movement is now fairly strong, as is indicated by the co-operation at present shown by these institutions and others over the question of preserving the Waipoua Kauri Forest. I believe that the education of this and future generations in botanical knowledge is far more important than satisfying the economic needs of the moment. The world has gradually been changing from the drudgery of a century ago to present-day conditions with its healthy environment, leisure and better appreciation of nature. In the future this tendency will be enhanced as a larger proportion of the people receive a broader education. However, unless we move quickly and with resolution, future generations will look back with regret on the lack of understanding which we showed in not vigorously preserving all we reasonably could of the forest that was still left. New Zealand still possesses good examples of its native plant formations, and what we must insist on is that one or more areas of each of the characteristic formations be preserved for all time without in any way being altered by man. Essential for implementing this programme is the preservation of a substantial area of kauri forest. The solution seems to be found in conserving the Waipoua Kauri Forest with a belt of forest or scrub surrounding the kauri stands.
Large areas such as national parks should have local boards of control, but Government administration of conservation in general, including administration of the Acts, of Parliament setting up the various reserves, should be handled by one department only. What I think is required is a method of declaring certain areas to be
parks, scenic reserves, sanctuaries and so on, and then handing them over to a Department of Conservation that has no statutory power to allow their use for any other purpose. There is plenty of work for such a department, as it naturally would carry out control measures for deer, goats and other forest-damaging animals, in fact, it would be concerned with all matters that pertain to the conservation of our native plants and animals. It is not good policy to allow permanent reserves to remain under the control of departments which at any time can convert trees to timber.
Closely associated with conservation of native forests is the problem of erosion, though this question looms much more largely in connection with lands suitable for economic use. Work on erosion has now been taken up seriously by the Public Works Department co-operating with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Erosion maps which will be very useful for detail work have been published. There is a vast field to cover, and I have no doubt that some startling results will come to light as the exact history of the course of erosion from its beginnings is studied in all kinds of terrain. Erosion can start at the same time at a multitude of points, each of which may have its peculiarities of exposure, soil, vegetative covering or none, and so on. There is work here for a lot of people, so perhaps botanists and trampers could make useful notes and photographs of what they see, especially in distant localities which the Government officials may not have time to visit. It is important to observe the conditions where the first signs of erosion occur, as in such places there is most likelihood of determining its cause.
I need not say much about researches carried out on plants of economic importance, as they will be familiar to most of you. They occupy the time of a considerable number of investigators in the Government service, the University colleges, the Cawthron Institute and manufacturing firms. The number of research workers, especially those employed by the Government, is increasing yearly and this is a sign that the work done is worth while. The investigations on plants naturally concern in the main those which form the basis of agricultural, horticultural, pastoral and forest products. The Plant Research Bureau of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is organized in five divisions, namely: the Plant Diseases Division investigating fungus and virus diseases; the Agronomy Division dealing with farm crops; the Grasslands Division; the Entomology Division working on insect pests of plants; and the Botany Division occupied with naturalized plants, grasslands and seaweeds, and maintaining a herbarium of native and introduced plants. The Cawthron Institute, two agricultural colleges and the Department of Agriculture carry out researches in the same field. Plant chemistry, including manures, is the work of the Plant Chemistry Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, while genetics and plant breeding is studied by the Wheat Research Institute of the same department. The results of all this work are published regularly and thus become available to the public.
This brief review will suffice to show the variety of subjects of economic bearing being investigated in New Zealand. It hardly tells you of the vast amount of work that lies ready to be done in the future, work that undoubtedly will increase as new kinds of plants and their accompanying pests come into the country. It would be presumption on my part to attempt to assess the value of this work. It is safe to say, however, that New Zealand is keeping pace with other countries that are carrying out researches on plants and that the results of work done here are useful in other parts of the world. We are daily gaining new knowledge which shows that we are applying aright the scientific method.
That there are still large and important problems to be attacked is evident, and many more will arise in the future. There are large, low-productive areas in New Zealand that cannot profitably be used. The gumlands, the fern and tea tree country and the pakihi lands are examples. Many, if not all, noxious weeds are only partially under control in any district. Ragwort and blackberry readily come to mind. The shrub Hakea saligna covers considerable areas in the Collingwood district. And so, for a long time to come, we will not have to look far for problems to investigate.
I would like to make a suggestion concerning the publication of scientific papers. Technical papers giving in many tables and graphs details of the experiments constitute a large portion of published scientific work. These papers certainly are useful to other research workers, but what seems to be overlooked is that they convey little to the layman. Besides these highly technical articles, authors should endeavour to publish papers interpreting the results of research work in language that can be understood by the farmer, horticulturalist, or whatever he may be. It is after all the practical man who requires information, and he cannot always get it from the technical articles that may be all that are available to him.
The last subject that I want to refer to is in some ways the most important. It is the distribution of literature among all those people for whom ultimately it is intended. Papers that are of little use to anyone other than research workers in the same line, I might say without hesitation, form the bulk of the articles printed in the Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology. They are not intended for the practical man, and in any case they have a comparatively small circulation. Periodicals like the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture and the Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture* do publish articles that can be read by the public. The Journal of Agriculture reaches a considerable section of the population, about 50,000 copies being distributed monthly; that is, one copy for every seven inhabited dwellings in New Zealand. What is badly needed in New Zealand is a popular science journal such as was intended when the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology was founded in the Dominion Museum in 1918.
[Footnote] * This journal has recently ceased publication.
When anyone begins seriously to study any branch of knowledge in New Zealand, or for that matter in any other country, he immediately comes up against the problem of a supply of the published literature. He may get references from the papers he refers to, but often he will have considerable difficulty in obtaining copies of the publications he requires. In some cases they are not to be had in New Zealand. Every investigator has these experiences, which are really serious impediments to furthering his studies. There is thus an urgent need of instituting some scheme that will give the research worker a reasonable chance of obtaining the literature he requires without spending too much time in searching and which will bring to him new publications as they appear. In this connection I will refer to two points, namely, the compilation of a bibliography without undue loss of time, and the distribution of published papers.
Every worker in science must make himself familiar with the literature that has been published on the subject of his selection. He needs, therefore, as quickly as possible, a bibliography of the subjects in which he is interested. To-day each of us has laboriously to collect his titles from scratch. But this need not be. The following scheme would enable every worker to purchase the greater part of his bibliography at once. Some institution in each country, maybe a public-library, a university library, or a museum library, would print on paper or card of a suitable size, say, three by five inches, the titles, authors and references, together with an indication of the contents, of every book or article of scientific or technological interest, published in New Zealand. An estimated sufficient number must be struck off, and these can be priced and held for sale. This would enable libraries, students, and anyone interested in serious literature to purchase the index cards he requires when he commences his studies and to add to them from time to time. The titles, of course, can never be complete for all the world, but if each country did the same thing there would be a reasonable chance of a worker in any part of the world obtaining quickly a useful bibliography relating to his studies. The number of papers already published in the scientific journals issued in New Zealand must be somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000.
The distribution of scientific literature is one of the most important and most needy aspects of scientific work; indeed, it is a factor affecting world progress. Most authors like to collect separates of published papers. This they do by exchange with fellow authors, and by receipt from those institutions which regularly keep supplies of their publications for distribution to those who apply for them. A few journals in the United States issue all their papers as separates paged for volumes, to be bound by the recipients if desired. The Dominion Museum Records are being issued this way, paged as for several series. Each article can be purchased separately. In England and in the United States it is a common practice always to begin each article on a page with an odd number. This enables the journal to be separated easily so that the articles can be classified in the library. Thus scientific societies assist those who wish to keep their literature classified. But the important problem is to get the articles distributed as quickly and as widely as possible. The following scheme is not
original. It has been referred to in several recent publications on UNESCO. Briefly, it is to establish in each country a branch of UNESCO for this and other purposes. Journals published in New Zealand would supply the national branch of UNESCO with the estimated requirements of each article which they print. The bulk of these would then be distributed to other national branches of UNESCO where they would become available, presumably by purchase, to those who required them. Reciprocal arrangements would enable workers in New Zealand to acquire the papers of authors in other parts of the world by applying to UNESCO in New Zealand. Both these schemes—that is, for distribution of titles and of separates—should, in my opinion, be considered by UNESCO when it is in a position to set up an organisation in each of the countries of the world. It is clearly within the aims of UNESCO to facilitate the distribution of scientific literature.
In conclusion, I would like to summarise the main suggestions I have made in the course of this address.
The teaching of biology as a basis of understanding human relations is extremely important if we are to appreciate our place in the world so that our culture may progress towards conditions favourable to world peace.
University education in biology, especially botanical ecology, could perhaps be related more definitely to human welfare.
Research in botany, both systematic and economic, should be expanded. Researches on systematic botany are lagging well behind those on economic botany and should be speeded up.
A large development in museums as centres for systematic work is necessary. These institutions can give liberal facilities to the public from which students in science must be drawn.
A new Flora of New Zealand, new text books for pupils of secondary school age, and popular books on New Zealand plants for the public are urgently required.
The whole question of the conservation of our native plants and animals needs attending to. There is sufficient administrative work in conservation to justify the setting up of a new Government department.
Plants being the basis of the greater part of New Zealand's economic productions, research work now being carried on by Government, University, and the Cawthron Institute should be continued on a more liberal scale.
The distribution of scientific literature on a world-wide basis is an extremely important matter that perhaps could be organized by UNESCO.