Sunday, 1 February 2009

Araucaria columnaris

Araucaria cookii R. Brown
Cupressus columnaris Forster
Dombeya columnaris Forster
Araucaria columnaris Hooker

Bot. Mag. 4635

" To Capt. Cook, the great circumnavigator, in his second voyage, is due the first discovery of this Araucaria, in the little islands off New Caledonia, and subsequently on the main island : —' On one of the western small isles was an elevation like a tower ; and over a low neck of land, within the isle, were seen many other elevations resembling the masts of a fleet of ships ;' and again, a few days after, ' as we drew near Cape Coronation, we saw in a valley to the south of it a vast number of those elevated objects before mentioned, and some low land under the foreland was covered with them. We could not agree in our opinions of what they were. I supposed them to be a singular sort of trees, being too numerous to resemble anything else ; and a great deal of smoke kept rising all the day from amongst those near the Cape. Our philosophers were of opinion that this was the smoke of some internal and perpetual fire. My representing to them that there was no smoke here in the morning would have been of no avail, had not this internal fire gone out before night, and no more smoke been seen after. They were still more positive that the elevations were pillars of basaltes, like those which compose the Giant's Causeway in Ireland.' On nearing the island, a few days later, ' every one was satisfied they were trees, except our philosophers, who still maintained they were basaltes.' To the commander ' they had much the appearance of tall pines, which occasioned my giving that name to the island.' ' I was, however, determined not to leave the coast till I knew what trees these were which had been the subject of our speculation, especially as they appeared to be of a sort useful to shipping, and had not been seen anywhere but in the southern part of this land.' At length Capt. Cook landed, accompanied by the Botanists. « We found the tall trees to be a kind of Spruce Pine, very proper for spars, of which we were in want. We were now no longer at a loss to know of what trees the natives made their canoes. On this little isle were some which measured twenty inches diameter, and between sixty and seventy feet in length, and would have done well for a foremast to the Resolution had one been wanting. Since trees of this size are to be found on so small a spot, it is reasonable to expect to find some much larger on the main and larger isles ; and if appearances did not deceive us, we can assert it. If I except New Zealand, I, at this time, knew of no island in the South Pacific Ocean where a ship could supply herself with a mast or a yard, were she ever so much distressed for want of one. My carpenter, who was a mast-maker as well as shipwright, was of opinion that these trees would make exceedingly good masts. The wood is white, close-grained, tough, and light. Turpentine had exuded out of most of the trunks, and the sun had inspissated it into a rosin, which was found sticking to them, and lying about the roots. These trees shoot out their branches like all other pines, with this difference, that the branches of these are much smaller and shorter ; so that the knots become nothing when the tree is wrought for use. I took notice that the largest of them had the smallest and shortest branches, and were crowned as it were at the top by a spreading branch like a bush ' (probably occasioned by their having been formerly densely crowded, and the tallest having most liberty at the top). ' This was what led some on board into the extravagant notion of their being basaltes : indeed, no one could think of finding such trees here.'"

There cannot be a doubt that this resemblance to columns of basalt induced the elder Forster to call this tree Cupressus columnaris, though he has fallen into an error in considering the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaría excelsa) to be the same, as we infer from his giving ' Norfolk Island ' as a second habitat for it ; notwithstanding that Capt. Cook, in his voyage, declared it to be different. ' This ' (the Norfolk Island Pine) ' is a sort between that which grows in New Zealand, and that in New Caledonia ; the foliage differing something from both, and the wood not so heavy as the former, nor so light and close-grained as the latter.'—Of the New Caledonia Pine no perfect cones were found by the ' philosophers ' of Capt. Cook's voyage ; but a fine apex of a branch and young cone were brought home, and are preserved in the Banksian Herbarium, and figured in Mr. Lambert's splendid work, under an impression that the species was identical with that of Norfolk Island, and on the same plate with the perfect cone of the latter species. Why, under these circumstances, Mr. Lambert did not adopt Forster's name of columnaris we cannot conceive : we think it only justice to the latter author to restore it to that particular species for which it was intended, and to which it is so very appropriate ; we would otherwise gladly have adopted Mr. Brown's excellent one :—for assuredly nearly all the particulars we know of this interesting Pine are derived from the narrative of the illustrious navigator. Singular enough, as Dr. Lindley quotes from Mr. Moore's letter, ' the first tree of this, noticed by Capt. Cook (in 1774) as "elevated like a tower," still stands (1850) and is in a flourishing condition. Its appearance now is exactly that of a well-proportioned factory chimney of great height.' The species is no doubt equally tender with the Norfolk Island Pine."

The remarks on the nomenclature of plants made at p. 61 of the last number of this work explain why we cannot acquiesce in the name imposed upon the present Conifer by our highly valued friend Sir W. Hooker. Acting upon what we think the erroneous principle of preserving under all circumstances the specific name first given by authors to a plant, however grave may have been the errors by which that name was accompanied, our able contemporary would abolish the name of Araucaria Cookii, and substitute that of A. columnaris. Let us examine the circumstances which are said to justify this measure. The plant in question was supposed by Förster, the first botanist who saw it, to be a Cupressus, and he called it columnaris, which, had it been a Cypress, would have been a characteristic name. But it proved to have no claim to stand in the genus where it was placed, and he afterwards published it as Dombeya columnaris, under which name he so mixed up the present plant and the Norfolk Island Pine, that there is no certainty what he meant. When Mr. Robert Brown referred to Araucaria that plant which the late Mr. Lambert had published, in his splendid monograph of Pines, under the name of Dombeya excelsa, he decided, and we think rightly, that he was not called upon to go back to the name of columnaris, applied to Dombeya, a cancelled genus, and he preferred the well-known, though more modern, name of excelsa. At the same time he would seem to have been aware that Forster had confounded two different species, and to have named the new Caledonian Pine A. Cookii, as we learn from a statement made by the late David Don in the Linnean Transactions. That name, A. Cookii, was adopted in Endlicher's Synopsis Coniferarum, and was received in the Journal of the Horticultural Society. Nevertheless it is exchanged in the Botanical Magazine for the obsolete columnaris, upon the ground of posteriority of publication, although the name columnaris was given to a Cupressus or Dombeya, not to an Araucaria, although all the Araucarias are columnar, and the name is therefore inappropriate, and most especially although the revival of Forster's obsolete name can only tend to increase that rampant confusion among the names of plants, of which every one complains with so much truth.

Paxton's Flower Garden, 1850, p. 77

The accompanying figure of the Cone is borrowed from the Journal of the Horticultural Society.

No comments: