On Captain James Cook’s first journey to New Zealand in 1768-71 on the Endeavour, the crew comprised several scientists charged with flora and fauna studies.
The financier and leader was Sir Joseph Banks who went on to be president of the Royal Society. He was assisted by Daniel Solander.
The first 60 specimens were collected from Poverty Bay and included karaka, ngaio, kowhai, rangiora and carmichaelia. While the scientists had their focus the Endeavours crew were more interested in useful plants and collected what is now known as Cook’s scurvy grass and Cook’s celery in an effort to combat and prevent scurvy – the curse of crews on early sailing ships with the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Hence this is probably the start of European plant use for medicinal reasons.
As they continued around the coast stopping several times to add to their collection the preserving, documenting, illustrating and storage must have been a real challenge as they eventually returned to England with in excess of 360 specimens and 200 sketches.
Cook returned in 1773 with the ships Resolution and Adventure and stopped in Dusky Sound where the naturalist Johan Forster started collecting more new species. Again Cooks own focus was on preventing scurvy and he created a concoction he called spruce beer. It started with young shoots of rimu fermented with treacle but subsequently was improved by the addition of tea brewed from manuka. This would of been the start of manuka tea in New Zealand and manuka’s common name of tea-tree.
A book by Forstar published in 1786 describes 51 edible plants from this 1773 voyage. Further books added to this useful number.
These early explorers were commemorated by specific names banksii, solandri & forstera.
Many of the plant names given by Solander are still in use today by botantists.
1822 and 1827 the French vessel Astrolabe sailed to New Zealand with Dumont d’Urville and Mr Lesson who added to previous collections. There plant descriptions were much more detailed an they too were commemorated with specific plant names.
Between 1834 – 1842 William Colenso on long walks added near 1,000 new botanical specimens. As botanical knowledge was consolidated over subsequent years other researchers names will also be found such as lyallii, sinclairii, traversii, bidwillii, and kirkii and so it goes on.
Some of the early botanists were very confused with New Zealand’s unique plants and must have laboured over naming them. Finally giving them a name derived from their closest in appearance European plant. For example Fagus sylvactica is European beech where NZ beech was called Nothofagus. Fagus = false (false beech)