In the beginning there was the forest
Before humans discovered New Zealand, most of the vegetation consisted of trees, mixed forests that were always green. Today only 20 percent of the country is forested, especially in the west of the South Island and the north of the North Island.
The Kauri tree
The Kauri tree is typical, or rather was, for New Zealand. 200 years ago large parts of the country were still covered by these trees. But the wood was very popular with the white settlers. So they cleared entire forests, the trees of which it often took centuries to reach their proud size. The oldest tree in New Zealand is said to be over 2000 years old. You can look at it too. The Maori gave names to these largest kauri trees. The largest tree, 55 meters high and 13.7 meters in circumference, is called Tane Mahuta, which means “lord of the forest”.
Many plants were introduced to New Zealand
In the southern part of the North Island there are mainly pseudo-beech forests. Pines were imported from California and planted to stop erosion. Willow, chestnut and maple were also introduced. The well-known American redwood tree originally had no home in New Zealand. The gorse bush, which we also have and which has spread all over New Zealand, has become a real nuisance.
The Christmas tree?
Native to New Zealand are Rimu, Matai, Tawa and the Christmas tree called Pohutukawa. This is mainly found on the North Island along the coast and blooms in red.
Land of ferns
As a country located in Polynesia according to Countryaah, New Zealand is also the land of ferns, 80% of the ferns that grow there are only there. This is called endemic. Some ferns are the size of trees and can reach heights of five to ten meters. The best known is the silver fern, which also adorns the coat of arms of New Zealand with its branches.
A specialty of New Zealand is the Nikau palm, which is the most southerly growing palm in the whole world.
A poisonous plant called tutu
Poisonous plants also grow in New Zealand, of which tutu has already led to poisoning, especially of grazing animals that have eaten the plant. If bees catch the pollen from this plant, the honey from these bees can also be poisoned.
And what is New Zealand’s most famous plant called?
The most famous plant in New Zealand is the kiwi. Because not only the New Zealanders call themselves “kiwis”, the kiwi tree (actually not a tree, but a bush) is a hallmark of New Zealand, is cultivated there and exported to all possible countries. New Zealand kiwis are famous. But the kiwi does not originally come from New Zealand, but from China.
Before the Europeans came
Before the Europeans came to New Zealand, there were almost no mammals there, just a few species of bats. Above all reptiles and birds lived on the islands and some really only lived here. One then speaks of endemic animal species.
The New Zealand settlers over time introduced mammals, which upset the natural balance of New Zealand thoroughly. So the cute looking possum has become quite a nuisance, as have rabbits and rats. Another problem was the red deer, which was released into the New Zealand forests and which destroyed many plants because it could reproduce strongly without natural enemies. However, these red deer are now kept in large enclosures and the meat of the animals is exported.
In the water
The seal population declined at the beginning of the 19th century. In the meantime, however, there are more seals again because they are being protected. Whales and sharks have also been spotted in New Zealand’s waters. The sperm whale – better known as the sperm whale – is a species of whale here that can grow up to 27 meters long.
Many species of reptiles lived in New Zealand before the settlers came. These include smooth lizards, geckos and the tuataras, which the Maoris also call spiked lizards and which belong to the bridge lizards. They are also protected and almost extinct in many countries around the world. This animal still looks almost the same today as it did 200 million years ago.
Unlike in Australia, there are far less poisonous animals, almost none at all. There is a poisonous snake species and a poisonous spider species, the katipo, which is related to the black widow. However, you should be careful of the wasps, which are numerous and of course there are also a lot of flies and vermin. The numerous sand flies in particular are a nuisance for people because their bite is very unpleasant. They’re not really dangerous, but they’re pretty annoying nonetheless.
Birds that cannot fly
Birds that cannot fly are typical of New Zealand. How is that you might ask? Since the mammals were absent as natural enemies of the birds, they did not have to take to the skies before the enemy. The moa, which belonged to the group of ratites, is already extinct. Hundreds of years ago, the moa lived all over New Zealand. Its natural enemy was the Haastadler, which had a wingspan of up to three meters, but it too is extinct. You can see both animals in the adjacent drawing.
The kakapo is also one of the flightless birds. It is a species of parrot. Although it still exists, it is mostly moss green and its plumage has a black stripe on its back, but it is also threatened with extinction. If you are in New Zealand you will probably not see it because it is nocturnal. The takahe, which looks like a chicken, the weka, which belongs to the order of the crane birds, and the national animal of New Zealand: the kiwi, cannot fly either.
Kiwis are the smallest ratites. They differ considerably from their larger conspecifics. They reach a length of 35 to 65 centimeters and are up to 35 centimeters tall and up to five kilograms in weight. The females are larger and heavier than the males. By the way, kiwis have wings, but cannot use them to fly. Typical of the kiwi is the long beak, which can reach up to 20 centimeters. Seeing kiwis is difficult because they are nocturnal and can usually only be heard and not seen at night. The kiwi is the national symbol for New Zealand. Not only the birds, but also New Zealand’s most popular fruit, like the residents themselves, are called “kiwis”.