Valuable ally or invading army? The ambivalence of gorse in New Zealand, 1835-1900

Michael L.S. Bagge

The myth that Carl Linnaeus fell on his knees at his first sight of gorse growing in England ‘thanking heaven for having created a flower so beautiful’ seems anomalous to a New Zealander in the present century. Here, gorse is portrayed as our worst noxious weed. Linnaeus would have been outraged to discover that every year New Zealand farmers combat gorse with an arsenal of fire, grazing, grubbing, pesticides, cutting machines, biological control and unashamed cursing. Today, a plant introduced as a valuable resource attracts considerable animosity. Gorse, also known as furze or whins, may seem an unlikely contender for a comprehensive historical analysis, but there is perhaps more to ‘Old-man Gorse’ than meets the eye.[1]

A survey in 1999 of the historiography of weeds questioned whether they exist as a category in nature or are a human construct. To that there is the added uncertainty about which are weeds and which are not weeds. According to Tom Isern, professor of history at North Dakota University ‘The story of gorse is one of ambivalence.’ The historiography concerning gorse is by no means comprehensive. Few works relate specifically to gorse although some twentieth century geographers, historians and botanist have included it in wider discourses on acclimatisation, weeds and the New Zealand environment.[2]

While some writers, among them farm advisory officer G.R. Moss and the geographer Kenneth Cumberland, have argued variously that gorse has been a problem from the earliest decades of European settlement or on the other hand that it became a problem only after World War One, it is my contention that there has been no clear-cut transition from plant resource to noxious weed. Rather, gorse has remained ambiguous throughout the time period covered here.

In the course of this discussion the reasons behind a growing unpopularity in some quarters will also become evident. The core of this analysis is the tenacity of gorse and the ambivalence that permeates the people–gorse relationship. This essay outlines a history of gorse that might be better described as one of survival rather than degeneration, as one of many weeds that survived the transition from resource to pest.

Perceptions and definitions: ‘a plant growing where it was not wanted’

Reflecting the nature of gorse itself, perceptions about and definitions of it have differed. The New Zealand naturalist G.M. Thomson expressed concern about thoughtless and unscientific acclimatisation practices that allowed the introduction of plants like gorse. A visiting Canadian historical geographer Andrew Clark likened the process to a literal invasion of animals, plants and people. Both, however, acknowledged its dual qualities. A gorse fence had a positive agricultural value. Infestation of surrounding land did not. Its definition as a weed relied on the place where it grew. The agricultural botanist F.W. Hilgendorf used this age-old idea to define a weed as a plant growing where it was not wanted.[3]

But such a definition has its inadequacies. Where, for example, gorse fences spread onto roadsides the distance between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ is negligible. To deal with this, some writers have made a distinction between ‘weeds’, ‘invaders’ and ‘colonisers’, defining ‘invaders’ as bio-geographical plants, those which spread into areas where they are not native. It could be argued that gorse, having adapted vigorously to the New Zealand environment, cllmate and soil, falls into this category.[4]

Others have disputed this, attributing the success of gorse largely to New Zealand farming practices rather than any inherent characteristics of the plant itself. Tasmin Mitchell from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, land resources branch, linked the aggressiveness of gorse to human action. Farmers had eradicated competitive native species and extensively farmed land did not provide sufficient stock numbers to restrain gorse through grazing.[5]

Both Moss in the 1960s and Cumberland in the 1970s shared an unambiguous perception of gorse. Both advocated its complete eradication, with Cumberland taking the view that it posed a considerable threat to both agricultural land and natural landscapes largely due to the magnitude and density of infestations.[6]

Tom Isern has taken a very different view, questioning efforts to eradicate species such as gorse. Categorising plants simply on either their perceived nuisance value or whether or not they are ‘native’ or ‘invasive’ is, he says, too simplistic, particularly in the case of gorse, given the degree of ambivalence about it. Instead, he advocates the acceptance of the whole of the present New Zealand biota as it is, blunders inclusive.[7]

1835-1880: Decades of duality

Those blunders began, in the case of gorse, in the pre-colonial period when, as Charles Darwin observed in 1835, missionaries at Waimate in the Bay of Islands had long included it in their farm fences. Following colonisation in the 1840s, a Government regulation introduced in the early 1850s required that Crown land leased to smallholders should be fenced using either gorse or hawthorn.[8]

Apart from instances such as these it is by no means clear from the limited evidence available just when and where gorse first arrived in New Zealand. Evidence available from the 1860s onwards, however, suggests that by that time it had been used extensively and in large quantities as a cheap form of live fence to retain stock, form shelterbelts and mark farm boundaries. An Otago fencing ordinance in the 1850s prevented the destruction of well-trimmed live hedges to erect a new fence without the consent of the owner, although by the early 1860s the degeneration of gorse fences in some areas necessitated the introduction of laws enforcing its clearance from roadsides.[9]

Gorse represented one hedge-plant among many planted by settlers. Its advantages above others such as hawthorn, briar and broom included its ability to succeed on poor, dry soils, its close-knit form and its fast growth, particularly in areas like Canterbury with a paucity of alternative fencing material like stone and wood. Its only disadvantage appeared to be its propensity to spread and become a weed, one that eventually, however, saw many farmers turning to inferior live fences.[10]

Clearly, in these instances the introduction of gorse to New Zealand was no accident, unlike the advent of such unwanted biota as ship rats, mice and the pasture weevil. Its introduction was merely one aspect of a much wider trend towards the acclimatisation in New Zealand and other British colonies of many familiar and useful plants and animals. To the British eye, New Zealand lacked the beneficial plants and animals of their homeland. Their introduction into New Zealand would, it was believed, provide positive economic benefits.

Some also saw aesthetic benefits from the planting of gorse hedges. At the Bay of Islands Charles Darwin admired the planting of apricots, grapes, olives, gooseberry, oak and gorse fences, evoking a sense of nostalgia. Charles Hursthouse recommended the planting of wild rose, broom and geranium in gorse hedges ‘to please the eye’. Another settler wrote of ‘dear old gorse so completely at home in Auckland’ and that it grew ‘along the roadside looking quite wild and natural’. To meet these various demands early seed merchants and nurserymen advertised a plentiful supply of both gorse seed and seedlings.[11]

By the mid 1860s, however, there was growing realisation that acclimatisation needed to be selective and carefully managed. W.T.L Travers, Fellow of the Linnean Society and a foundation member of the New Zealand Institute, for example, commended the acclimatisation of gorse, sweetbriar and hawthorn but deplored the introduction of Scotch thistle and hawkweed. But it is clear that at this time reservations about gorse were beginning to emerge.

Not everyone shared Travers’ enthusiasm for the plant. Some had come to the realisation that in New Zealand it behaved differently from Britain where, in a colder climate, it had been more manageable. There it grew to a lower height, could be kept well trimmed by farmers and cattle on intensively stocked farms, and faced competition from other plants. In some areas, however, without careful management it could get out of control. Indeed, some of the ambivalence that would arise about gorse in New Zealand had its origins in Britain where this potential to spread saw it labelled in the 1850s as a ‘common’ weed, especially when it grew unchecked on open heath and other public land.[12]

In New Zealand the absence of harsh frosts and natural parasites other than a worm that could leave gaps in some hedges, coupled with extensive farming practices and relatively low stocking rates, heavily advantaged gorse. The large scale burning of bush and grassland in the colonial era further aided its spread. Gorse seed proved well able to survive burning where native plants could not, reducing competition pressure. Here too, the warmer climate allowed gorse to bloom for longer periods, increasing the quantity of seed, which more robust plants could project over larger areas, over a radius of up to 16 feet. Cattle found this ‘super-gorse’ relatively unpalatable, giving it a wide berth.[13]

Other factors contributed to the unwanted spread of gorse and a growing ambivalence about the plant. In addition to deliberate introductions, seed arrived accidentally, mixed with imported seeds of desirable agricultural and garden plants and in ships’ ballast. Within New Zealand the movement of stock and threshing machines around and between farms, and the actions of wind and rivers accidentally distributed it over wide areas of farms, roadsides, riverbeds and the open spaces of Crown land. Gorse prospered particularly well on marginal land where farmers and stock could not.[14]

Other introduced plants, particularly thistle, that had begun to cause problems from the earliest days of colonisation, became the subject of prevention acts in nearly all New Zealand provinces from the mid 1850s onwards. With the exception, however, of a number of urban areas including Nelson, New Plymouth and several towns in Canterbury where gorse hedges provided no agricultural benefit, gorse appears to have escaped similar legislative attention, either because of its recognised utility value or because thistles were at this time much more troublesome.

Certainly, during the 1870s and 1880s greater concern developed about the spread of Californian thistle, which received far more attention in farmers’ journals and Parliamentary debates than did gorse. Gorse continued to be extensively planted in Canterbury throughout the 1860s for a variety of purposes including stock control and firewood supply. In 1872, the Otago Provincial Council gave formal legal protection to gorse hedges and in 1876 the Otago Witness proclaimed the value of live hedges as shelterbelts for cattle. From 1887 onwards the New Zealand Country Journal regularly recommended the eradication of Californian thistle while continuing to advocate the growing of gorse hedges.[15]

Nevertheless, the dual status of gorse in Britain, as a valuable ‘live hedge’ in a well-trimmed fence, but a ‘weed’ elsewhere, had by this time clearly begun to emerge in New Zealand farmers’ minds. The two categories became blurred when seeds from gorse fences spread across neighbouring farmland and roadsides. As more and more farmers recognised this the popularity of gorse began to wane.

Two Canterbury writers, the naturalist T.H. Potts and the gardener J.B. Armstrong both acknowledged the value of gorse but only when properly managed. Armstrong described it as a major fire hazard if neglected. ‘Agricola’, an Auckland contributor to the New Zealand Country Journal, also highlighted the fire hazard. He claimed that, despite its virtues as a quick growing hedge of neat appearance if kept well trimmed, it had become almost ‘universally condemned as a great nuisance’ with many farmers wishing they had never planted it.[16]

Varying views such as these reflected wider ambivalences in different parts of New Zealand. No general consensus existed about the desirability or undesirability of gorse, and it behaved differently in different parts of New Zealand, further complicating these varying perceptions. At this stage in the history of Otago, where gorse fences afforded shelter in a difficult climate, they were still far from being thought of as a noxious weed. In Canterbury, although gorse had become a major problem where it had got out of control, it provided one of the best hedges that could grow in the dry soil. In the warmer, wetter northern regions its tendency to flower twice in a year made it harder to manage, lending weight to Agricola’s criticism of it as ‘a great nuisance’.

Clearly gorse no longer retained its earlier widespread popularity. But rather than an increase in legislative attempts to deal with it, these in fact tapered off from the late 1870s. Following the passing of the Abolition of Provinces Act in 1875, and in contrast to earlier provincial government legislation, the central government passed no legislation aimed specifically at gorse or other weeds until 1900. It did, however, include in a Public Works Act passed in 1876 provisions for dealing with gorse overhanging roads or railways and extended these to riverbeds in an 1883 amending act.[17]

Similarly, the Municipal Corporations Act 1880 included powers to deal with gorse and other overgrown weeds on private property, and the Fencing Act 1881 prohibited the use of gorse, briar, bramble or blackberry as a boundary fence without the consent of the occupier of adjoining land. This legislation was, however, by no means as comprehensive as earlier provincial acts directed specifically at gorse and other weeds.[18]

At the end of the 1870s no national consensus existed about the desirability or otherwise of gorse hedges. Rather, perceptions of them could be divided roughly into three categories: those who valued them; those who deplored them; and those who disliked them but believed their advantages outweighed their disadvantages. Nevertheless, the inclusion of gorse control provisions in legislation passed between 1876 and 1883 pointed to a growing recognition that the unwanted spread of gorse presented a problem.

1880-1900: The noxious weeds debate

The debate about the relative merits of gorse, and about weeds in general, increased notably in the farming press in the late 1880s and 1890s. Farmers complained initially about the drastic spread of weeds and the need for legislation, and then about the slowness of the Parliamentary response. The establishment in 1892 of a Department of Agriculture, presided over by a Minister of Agriculture reporting to Parliament, provided a more effective forum for farmers and at the same time a means of bringing together information about weeds from the entire country. The appointment of a biologist enabled the Department to make soundly based recommendations for dealing with them but it remained for Parliament to develop and implement acceptable legislation.

As early as 1881 it had become clear that developing weed control legislation acceptable to most Parliamentarians would be no easy task. James Fisher, the Member for Heathcote, in Canterbury, told the House of Representatives in an 1881 debate that gorse was often the only hedge readily available to farmers in his electorate and that it would be harsh if legislation forced them to discontinue its use.[19]

At this time the farming press expressed similar views, and set out to educate farmers about the planting and management of gorse. Until late in the nineteenth century the New Zealand Country Journal continued to advocate gorse as the best hedge for South Island farmers both for its density as a stock barrier and the shelter it afforded against ‘cold, cutting winds’. Similarly, Bretts Colonists Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge endorsed gorse as one of the best fences for Canterbury but added a warning that if allowed to become unkempt it would grow to be the nuisance it already was in the North Island.[20]

The introduction of a new foreign invader, barbed wire, in the 1880s threatened the gorse hedge. In contrast to opinions expressed in the 1870s, a Pukekohe farmer, William Morgan, considered barbed wire hedges to be a superior replacement for live hedges. He thought it would have been ‘better if no live fences had ever been planted.’ In his view many settlers would now eradicate live fences they had planted only a few years earlier.

The need to prune gorse several times a year to keep roads clear outweighed any potential it had as a shelterbelt. The less live hedges on a farm the better. Cheaper, more flexible and superior to rail fences liable to be blown down by wind, Morgan considered that barbed wire required less maintenance than gorse and did not drain the soil of nutrients. The North New Zealand Settler also advocated replacing live hedges with barbed wire, expressing the hope that the gorse-growing era had ended.[21]

Another contributor to the Country Journal, Andrew Simson of Kaitangata in Otago, noted that gorse hedges and the sod banks on which they were planted gave safe harbour to rabbits. Replacement with barbed wire would in his estimation drastically reduce the rabbit problem, although he agreed that some gorse should be retained to provide shelter for stock. Many farmers recognised this necessity for stock shelterbelts, as well as the time and cost involved in replacing gorse with wire, and retained their hedges.

To some extent this could be overcome by the simple expedient of setting fire to the standing gorse or, where that might damage pasture, using a gorse burner. This contraption consisted of a 400 gallon water tank cut in half with bars across the top and mounted on wheels. Harnessed to a horse, it could be pulled along a hedge-line, the cut gorse piled on top and burned. The ash fell through a trapdoor in the bottom for use as manure.[22]

Towards the end of the 1880s some New Zealand politicians began to respond to growing concerns about gorse. Thomas McKenzie, Member of the House of Representatives for Clutha, and himself a seed merchant, proposed in 1888 that gorse and sweet briar be added as weeds to a proposed Californian Thistle Act. His amendment was lost by 28 votes to 9, other members preferring a general reference to ‘other noxious weeds and plants’ rather than specific mention of gorse and briar.

The following year McKenzie tried again with support from Frank Lowry, MHR for Franklin North, who expressed concern about the ability of roads boards to require farmers to control roadside gorse. This time, however, the House voted against the whole Act. Members were clearly not yet inclined to use legislation to target specific weeds like gorse, reflecting a widespread view among farmers that the cost of eradication would be unaffordable.[23]

Similarly a request by George Moore, Pahiatua County Clerk, to Alexander Hogg, MHR for Masterton, to have legislation introduced that would prevent the introduction of gorse, briar and Californian thistle into any county where they were not already extensive proved to be too comprehensive and failed to get support.[24]

John (Jock) McKenzie, Minister of Agriculture, set out in 1891 to get the House to take a comprehensive approach to eradicating noxious weeds. A committee of ten Members canvassed landholders’ attitudes to problem weeds throughout the country. They reported later in the year that the problem had reached drastic proportions with weeds such as gorse, briar and thistle overrunning the country and decreasing land values. They recommended the introduction of legislation at the next parliamentary session.[25]

The Minister duly introduced a Noxious Weeds Bill in 1892. It defined ‘noxious weed’, prohibited the spread of noxious seeds and provided for enforcement. It did not single out gorse but included it in a schedule of plants considered to be noxious. From this point the history of gorse became inseparable from concerns about all major weeds.

The introduction of a bill did not, however, automatically ensure its passing. McKenzie would have to reintroduce his Bill every year for the next seven years. Controversy centred on how much power central government should exercise over weeds on private property and the comprehensive nature of the Bill, which targeted all problem weeds in all parts of the country. Michael Murphy, Fellow of the Linnean Society and editor of the Country Journal, defined ‘weeds proper’ as worthless under all conditions, citing thistles, fat-hen and dock as examples. Gorse still had its uses and did not fit into this category.[26]

Farmers also opposed as impractical those clauses of the Bill that would require them to clear gorse even when it did not cause a problem. Varying climates and varying growth patterns meant gorse and other plants did not cause problems in all parts of the country. In some cases the sheer volume of gorse would make it impossible to clear. The Country Journal took exception to the possibility of farmers being punished for failing to clear weeds from private land when the Government failed to maintain its own properties.

One contributor to the Journal complained about having to clear gorse when there was more important farm work to be completed. Gorse should only be removed in farmers’ spare time, otherwise it would be unprofitable. The Department of Agriculture replied that it expected farmers to cut gorse at least once a year, anticipating that this would rid the country of much of it within a few years.[27]

For much of the 1890s debate continued around these issues, with farmers’ organisations generally keen to have a Noxious Weeds Act passed, but not unless it could somehow be made to meet their conflicting views and requirements. While the debate dragged on, the annual reports of the Department of Agriculture reflected both the growing urgency of and divergent trends in the weed problem. The 1893 report described the situation as ‘alarming’ and called for legislation at the ‘earliest possible moment’. In 1894 it called the weed problem an ‘invading army’, a military metaphor that would persist into the late twentieth century.

The 1895 report uncovered two divergent trends. The first was the alarming spread of gorse in some parts of Canterbury and Southland riverbeds, the second the demise of gorse in fences, roadsides and riverbeds, again in some parts of Canterbury. The Department of Agriculture’s biologist, T.W. Kirk commenced an investigation into the latter, while an article in the Country Journal illustrated the ambiguity of the situation. Admitting that the loss of a good gorse hedge would be unfortunate, the Journal put forward the rather controversial view that in the long run the death of all gorse hedges would be a benefit.[28]

Meanwhile, Kirk’s 1895 report to the Government had described as ‘essential’ the need for legislation ‘compelling the careless man to check weeds’ and punishing ‘the continual careless man’. Stock inspectors throughout the country between 1895 and 1900 reported broom, blackberry, thistle, sweetbriar and gorse as the most problematic weeds. Gorse had become an undisputed plague on Crown wasteland and in riverbeds, especially in Canterbury.

At the same time, some farmers were experimenting with the use of gorse as sheep fodder, as had been the case in France and England for hundreds of years. At Pakaraka and Keri-Keri, T.C. William successfully tried growing gorse on marginal land where exotic grasses had failed. Similar successful experiments were tried at Raglan and Papatoetoe. The Department of Agriculture, viewing the practice as something of a novelty, first commented on it in 1895, reporting in 1899 that while it had attracted some converts they needed to keep strict control of any gorse they grew for fodder. By 1922 it had become evident that control had failed.[29]

Back in the House of Representatives, John McKenzie expressed his dissatisfaction with the length of time taken to pass his Bill. He told the 1896 session that weeds were ‘well widespread’, necessitating quick action. Gorse in riverbeds raised the water level and diverted rivers from their original courses. When rivers flooded, gorse seed spread to the surrounding country. Members debated who would be responsible for clearing gorse from such problem areas.

The Member for Rangitata, William Maslin considered the task fiscally insurmountable. Infestation covered hundreds of square miles and the cost would overburden already hard-pressed local bodies. This view was echoed by Walter Buchanan, MHR for Wairarapa, who considered that much weed-infested land would not be worth the cost of clearance. He also drew attention to the spread of gorse and broom, originally sown by the Government, along the Rimutaka railway line and the burden removing it would place on the local road board, given that the Government itself was either unwilling or unable to meet the cost.

All of the other issues raised during the debate indicated deep divisions among the politicians. Richard Meredith, MHR for Ashley, commented that some local bodies did not enforce existing legislation and some farmers were guilty of negligence, so he advocated further enforcement by central government. On the other hand, James Allen, the Member for Bruce, contended the Bill should be aimed only at negligent farmers because more-comprehensive legislation would be oppressive. William Massey, representing the Waitemata electorate, questioned any interference by the state in the private management of a farm. In his view farmers were already overburdened with inspectors. The appointment of weeds inspectors would only cause anger and resentment.[30]

Outright political opposition to the eradication of gorse emanated from two different strands of opinion. On the one hand there were those who considered that useful or harmless stands of gorse should not have to be eradicated or its growth prohibited. On the other there were those who believed there was so much useless gorse that it would be impossible to comply with regulations requiring its clearance, particularly on wastelands and riverbeds. Farmers voiced similar discontent with the Bill, some opposing the burden of clearing it and others not wanting to lose the option of planting it.

The Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association in 1896 and 1897 criticised the failure of the legislature to produce an acceptable Noxious Weeds Bill and called for co-operation between all affected parties. The Country Journal also expressed unease at the lack of government action while weeds continued to spread. The 1898 Agricultural Council addressed the problems of drafting a Bill that would meet differing circumstances in different part of the country. It urged the Government to remodel the existing Bill to ensure its effectiveness, including a provision allowing the growth of gorse for fodder and recognition that some land was too infested for successful eradication. The 1899 meeting of the Auckland Agricultural Association also encouraged modifications to the Bill to reduce the power it gave the Government and the number of weeds it targeted.[31]

Farmers’ anger with the various drafts of the Bill has been attributed to Government attempts to impose a uniform solution on a variety of farm types and environments. No one could agree about what constituted a weed, exactly which plants were noxious weeds and which were weeds in some areas and not in others. And farmers opposed the Bill because it would force them to clear ‘unclearable’ weeds.[32]

Opposing views about the liberty of the individual further complicated the debate. T.W. Kirk and John McKenzie believed in the necessity of greater Government intervention to battle weeds, while politicians like William Massey and James Allen believed that intervention should be kept to a minimum. The historian Paul Star has commented that many colonists opposed laws affecting private property, holding the view that the individual had the right to do whatever he wanted on his own land, and could not easily accept legislation against pests and weeds.[33]

So while farming journals, Agricultural and Pastoral Associations and the Department of Agriculture pressed for legislation as the only effective answer to the problem, farmers wanted to restrain the power of Government over private land. Farmers might have little influence on the actual drafting of the Bill but they did have strength in opposing its passing until the Government came up with something more attuned to their ideals concerning private land.

Finally, in 1900 a Noxious Weeds Act acceptable to farmers, politicians and the Department of Agriculture passed into law, despite the concerns of some Members about the arbitrary powers granted to inspectors. It divided weeds into three categories. The First Schedule covering noxious weeds listed the country’s worst weeds and required their eradication. The Second Schedule gave local bodies the power to declare well-known weeds as noxious in their districts. Placed in the first schedule in earlier drafts of the Bill, gorse now appeared on the second. It would remain there until the passing of the 1950 Noxious Weed Act, which shifted it to the first schedule. The Third Schedule listed all weeds considered to have noxious seeds.[34]

The Act made it illegal to sell or buy noxious weed seeds with the single exception of ‘old-man-gorse’. It permitted the sale of gorse seed for fodder with the permission of the local authority and its sale for fencing without approval. In recognition of the fact that gorse could be as much of a nuisance as blackberry, sweet briar, broom and hakea, the Act stipulated that it had to be kept trimmed along watercourses and the trimmings removed and destroyed. In those districts which declared such weeds to be noxious, gorse had to be cleared at the proper time of the year. The 1928 Noxious Weeds Act retained these provisions.

The passing of the Act did little in itself to solve the weed problem. That would require comprehensive enforcement, particularly with regard to clearing roadside gorse. But the Act did highlight the true extent of the weed problem, with the Department of Agriculture reporting in 1901 more weed infestations than ever before, the most common being sweetbriar, blackberry, Californian thistle and gorse. Gorse attracted more complaints in 1902, with calls for it to be elevated to noxious weed status.

The failure of some local bodies to enforce weed clearance also attracted comment. Some farmers did not actively pursue weed eradication while others repeated the complaint that the land was often not worth the cost of clearance. Passing stock and birds received the blame for the appearance of roadside weeds and the gorse on Crown land remained untouched.

Official recognition of the latter problem did little to solve it. The Government lacked the knowledge, funds and strategy to eradicate large tracts of gorse and the advent of pesticides and biological control lay many years in the future. But some farmers refused to clear their weeds if the Government did nothing to clear Crown land. In 1915, the Tauranga County Council wrote to the Minister of Lands complaining that farmers in the Ake Ake district had been prosecuted for gorse growth that had spread from Crown Land.

The length of time it took to pass an acceptable act raised questions about the effectiveness of the parliamentary process in the face of a clear need to deal with a growing weed problem. Handling of the Bill had been fraught from the outset, a typing error in the first draft requiring its immediate withdrawal. Some, like P.R. Stephens writing in the Journal of Agriculture, believed that the Bill was never given any urgency.

The remarks of J.D. Ormond, a Hawkes Bay runholder and chairman of the Joint Agricultural, Pastoral and Stock Committee of the House, illustrate this point. In 1896 Ormond told the House: ‘As the time at their disposal does not allow them to enter fully into the subject of the Bill, and to make satisfactory amendments therein, they recommend that the Bill be deferred, and brought up at an early date next session.’ Either the committee did not attach much importance to the Bill or was reluctant to force it on farmers. Whatever the case, Thomas Young, Minister of Lands in 1900, believed that the passing of a Noxious Weeds Bill ten or fifteen years earlier would have resulted in fewer farms plagued with weed problems.[35]

Events beyond 1900 demonstrated that history does not unfold in a linear fashion. Early volumes of the Journal of Agriculture recorded that farmers continued to be interested in efficient gorse growing methods. By 1915, eradication once more became a topic of debate, particularly with the reduction of manpower during World War One. And yet, thirty years after some farmers had begun to question the desirability of gorse, others were still planting it.[36]

The 1900 Act was a definitive but by no means a final point in the transition of gorse from valued plant to noxious weed. Its exemption from noxious weed status and its continued use by farmers demonstrate that positive attitudes to it still existed. No consensus existed about gorse, with decisions about whether or not to declare it a noxious weed being left to individual local bodies.

1900-2000: A multiplicity of perceptions

Writing in 1922, the ecologist G.M. Thomson looked back at the early history of gorse and concluded that it had been a difficulty since the early days of settlement. Like other purposely introduced plants and animals it had spread out of control, threatening the well-being of communities and requiring legislative attention. Although he did not condemn it outright, he considered it ‘a most abundant’ weed and one moreover that provided a safe haven for that other pest, the rabbit.[37]

In contrast, twenty years later the Canadian historical geographer Andrew Hill Clark found it impossible to determine the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of gorse to the farming economy of the South Island. While it fulfilled a need in the early decades of settlement and still provided an unrivalled shelter fence it had since spread onto thousands of acres of potential farmland, something a ‘shrewd prophet could have predicted in the mid-nineteenth century.’

With Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) it had become one of the three characteristic shelter and fence plants of the South Island. The Australian historical geographer A.G. Price shared Clark’s view, adding that gorse had filled the gap left by the absence of wood or stones in Canterbury for dead fences.[38]

Geographer Peter Holland and wildflower enthusiast Gordon Ell both examined the question of nineteenth century alternatives to gorse as a live fence. Holland concluded that several possible native species had not been employed because farmers and horticulturists were heavily influenced by their heritage of English enclosures. By comparison, New Zealand species, which we now know would not have spread aggressively, were unfamiliar and untested. Ell described the decision to introduce gorse as logical in situations where timber was scarce and wire difficult to obtain.[39]

These and other writers’ views of gorse in the twentieth century provide a diverse set of opinions. In 1948 J.S. Yeats from Massey Agricultural College wrote that gorse was ‘still one of the most used hedges in New Zealand’ but that its use had declined in recent years, a view echoed by University of Otago historical geographer R.P. Hargreaves. Holland’s research concluded that the length of gorse hedges in Canterbury had steadily increased from 1865 to 1910 but had levelled off until the 1950s when there had been a strong trend towards hedge replacement.[40]

Yeats considered gorse to be a cheap hardy shelter plant for most New Zealand soils and climates. It did not harm stock and had some value as fodder. A moderate rate of growth and ability to withstand neglect were offset by its tendency to yield gaps from stem borers and fungus disease and its propensity to become a weed. Overall it provided a ‘neat and attractive hedge when well kept.’ By the end of the twentieth century farmers would question this judgement.[41]

F.W. Hilgendorf, Professor of Agriculture and Lincoln College, referred in 1952 to the declining popularity of gorse and its replacement with trees which he considered provided better shelter. A few years later, in 1960, C.R. Moss, farm advisory officer with the Department of Agriculture, writing in the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture adopted a more negative attitude to gorse than either Yeats or Hilgendorf. ‘There would be no gorse problem in New Zealand today if we had not planted gorse hedges’, he said, adding that ‘we can never hope to get rid of gorse as a weed until every gorse hedge has been destroyed.’ That not all farmers accepted the need to remove their hedges could be demonstrated by a drive through Canterbury farmland forty years later.[42]

In the mid 1960s another farm advisory officer, P.R. Barber, remarked on the tendency for old gorse to remove itself. If hedges were not trimmed properly each year they opened at the base and became straggly at the top, necessitating the repair of gaps with wire or rails. Peter Holland later attributed this tendency to the introduction of mechanical cutters after World War Two, replacing skilled individuals whose expert trimming had prevented this form of deterioration.[43]

Ten years later the value of gorse came under fire from a forestry official, Z.A. Zabkiewiez, who regarded it as a nuisance to forestry workers, despite its uses in the stabilisation and enrichment of poor quality soils. While it might in some instances enhance forestry regeneration, more efficient forms of chemical control were needed to replace inefficient mechanical eradication. Similarly, and in a reversal of his earlier advocacy of the use of gorse to control soil erosion, the geographer Kenneth Cumberland believed that, despite the known health risks of herbicides like 2-4-5-T, their continued use provided the only effective means of controlling gorse.[44]

By the 1980s and 1990s gorse had come to be widely perceived as New Zealand’s worst weed. In 1981 R.L. Taylor, agricultural chemical expert and former committee member of the New Zealand Pest and Weed Control Conference, pointed out that whereas gorse had become a ‘weed in few countries due to its strict climate requirements,’ in New Zealand it had become the most expensive weed to combat. A.G. Price considered gorse to be the ‘single, most damaging of New Zealand weeds’, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry categorised it as the country’s commonest and most costly weed. Clearly, by the 1980s gorse had become a widespread problem and although landowners were required to keep their boundaries clear, they did not have to eradicate it on the rest of their property, a recognition that by this time gorse infestations were too substantial to eradicate swiftly and successfully.[45]

At the same time, others could see the benefits of gorse. Gordon Ell saw it as one of the introduced wild flowers that enriched the New Zealand landscape. Others acknowledged that it benefited the bee industry, providing a source of pollen essential to maintain healthy and efficient hives in early spring, particularly in those areas of Canterbury where at that time of year few other species flowered, as well as providing shelter for hives. In 1987, apiarists estimated that a 50 percent reduction in gorse flowers would cost the industry up to $1.6 million annually. On the other hand, although an investigation of the effects of the biological control of gorse on the goat industry concluded that they could be successfully raised on gorse, the New Zealand Goat Council accepted that ‘reasonable people would be unlikely to support the retention of prickly gorse purely because it has potential to feed goats.’[46]

In recent years gorse has also acquired considerable importance as a nurse crop for the regeneration of native forest. Kevin Hackwell, who received the 1978 Royal Forest and Bird Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Scholarship for his research, argued that those who treated it only as a noxious weed had overlooked this valuable aspect of gorse. Gorse fixed its own nitrogen and enabled quicker succession than did manuka or kanuka. Gorse infestations on marginal land unsuited to forestry or farming could be employed to regenerate native bush, a wiser and cheaper course than spraying or burning. Hackwell concluded that ‘if land covered in gorse can be left alone, much of the country’s “waste land” will end up reclothed in native forest.’

A University of Otago researcher, Megan Ogle-Mannering, supported Hackwell’s contentions with the proviso that success depended on soil, climate and the method of regeneration. Forest regeneration presented a practical solution to the century old complaint by farmers that marginal land and unusable gullies could not bear the cost of clearance.[47]

In 1986 Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) entomologist Richard Hill investigated the viability of biological control of gorse as a means of reducing its effects on forestry land where it inhibited pine seedling growth, hindered pruning and presented a serious fire risk, and on pastoral land where it decreased fodder availability. Biological methods appeared to offer a less expensive means of control.

Reaction varied between those who strongly supported biological control, those who wanted further testing to ensure species specificity and those who opposed it outright. Among the latter, the Native Forest Action Council considered that the risks involved were too great and outweighed any need to eradicate gorse. Peter Bannister, Professor and Chairman of the Botany Department at the University of Otago, saw gorse as a ‘non-problem’ on marginal land and listed its advantages for erosion control, as a nitrogen fixer and as a nurse crop.

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society listed similar advantages and offered support only if it could be proven that the introduced insects to be released would be species specific. The Nature Conservation Council added bee keeping to the list of advantages of gorse and Gavin Daly, senior lecturer in plant science at Lincoln College believed goat control would be more effective than biological agents and would not impair other valuable uses of the plant.[48]

Despite these objections, the DSIR introduced spider mites and thrips in 1989. These two species alone were not considered to be sufficient and in 1990 Tamsin Mitchell from the department’s land resources branch outlined other possible releases including a moth which fed on gorse shoots in autumn. The factors which Mitchell considered necessitated biological control included the extensive cultivation of New Zealand farms compared to European intensive farming, milder climate, lack of predators and the use of fire to clear scrubland, a practice ‘perfectly suited to the establishment and spread of gorse’, the seeds of which could germinate after burning or lie dormant for decades.

By 1998, however, Bruce Roy, a Bay of Plenty farmer and member of the Plant Protection Society, concluded that biological control had failed to reduce gorse infestation, although Michelle Coleman of the University of Otago School of Medicine argued in 2000 that it was then still too early to make a judgement. For its part the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry considered that biological control would never equal the success of chemical pesticides in eradicating gorse.[49]

In 1993 a Bio-Security Act replaced the former Noxious Plants Act and labelled the country’s worst weeds, including gorse, as ‘national surveillance plant pests’. The new Act devolved weed management to regional councils and made it illegal to propagate, distribute and sell such plants. In contrast to this, however, a 1997 Department of Conservation publication did not designate gorse as the country’s worst weed, indicating a continuing lack of unanimity among New Zealanders’ perceptions of gorse.

Overall, perceptions about gorse became increasingly negative as the twentieth century progressed. Eventually the unremitting aggressiveness of gorse surpassed its values throughout the country. By 1950 the distinction between ‘gorse hedge’ and ‘stray gorse’ had collapsed. From the 1970s onwards gorse had come to be widely regarded as New Zealand’s worst weed, or at least the most expensive to control. For most farmers there was little distinction between the two.

Entomologist Richard Hill succinctly summed up the situation: ‘Gorse differs from all other weeds in New Zealand’ because ‘it [was] almost certainly the most economically damaging of our weeds but [had] several economic and environmental attributes’, highlighting the conflict this ambivalence has caused between those who wanted to eradicate it and those who wanted to exploit it.

Gorse in the wider world: Startlingly divergent perceptions

Beyond New Zealand there have also been some startlingly divergent perceptions of gorse. Caspar, a small seaside settlement on the west coast of the United States is probably the world’s only town that both celebrates and eradicates gorse. Both aspects are honoured at a three day Gorse Festival where the first of the gorse wine is tasted. Introduced by early settlers for no apparent reason, gorse serves no purpose other than to give Caspar personality, hence the desire by the townsfolk to eradicate it.[50]

In France it was a valuable fuel for bakers’ ovens and in parts of Britain, where it is susceptible to hard frosts, gorse has been grown for winter fodder and fuel and as a refuge for game. Small patches of it could be found in most heath land. The author of a 1931 Modern Herbal went so far as to advise readers who wished to grow it to keep it free of weeds for the first years of growth. In the New Forest, gorse provided food for ponies and good winter cover for small birds. It is listed as one of the cultivated ornamental plants of Europe and continues to be sold in nurseries. In at least one county its cultivation is permitted outside city or village limits.[51]

Unlike Britain, however, some other parts of the world have experienced problems with gorse, although not necessarily problems as severe as in New Zealand. In Hawaii, where it was introduced prior to 1910 with the establishment of a heavy wool trade, it had by 1960 become a major problem, invading critical watersheds, infesting agricultural land and threatening private property as a fire hazard.

In mainland United States a fire that originated in forest and spread into gorse, introduced by early settlers as an ornamental, destroyed the town of Brandon, Oregon (population 1800) in less than five hours. Gorse has been classified as a ‘principal weed’ in pasture in countries as scattered as Tasmania, Chile and Brazil and in fodder-kale crops in Germany. It is a ‘common weed’ in Scottish and Spanish forests and Italian pastures and an unranked pasture weed in parts of England, Germany and India.[52]

Conclusions: The ambiguity of gorse

It is evident that gorse defies generalisations and categorisation. Those who introduced it into New Zealand did so for reasons of nostalgia, familiarity and practicality. In England it had been and still is less aggressive than it became in New Zealand. There, left to its own devices it is a naturally fast growing and easily spread plant. Here, transplanted from its home environment it has become an aggressive weed, albeit one that can be controlled by intensive farming and good husbandry practices.

Farmers’ relationships with gorse in New Zealand have been shaped by its transition from a common weed in the earliest days of settlement, to a problem weed, to a noxious weed, to the country’s worst weed. Prohibited in some towns, it was promoted on farmland. Replaced in some instances by barbed wire, it remained valued as a shelterbelt. Some politicians wanted it labelled as noxious when some of their farmer constituents were content to sow it for sheep fodder. Its enduring agricultural popularity saw it omitted for the First Schedule of the 1900 Noxious Weeds Act.

Nevertheless, gorse enjoyed less popularity when it exited the nineteenth century stage than when it entered. Throughout this period problems with gorse challenged and eventually overshadowed any perceived benefits, despite Kenneth Cumberland’s assertion that concerns about it did not develop until after World War One. That may have been true of gorse hedges, which in Canterbury reached their peak in 1910 and continued more or less undiminished until replacement commenced in the 1950s. But it was not true of the hundreds of square miles of impenetrable gorse on marginal land, Crown wasteland and riverbeds, which exercised the minds of many farmers and politicians from the 1870s onwards. Considerable debate ensued about the causes of the infestations and how they could be dealt with. Initially condemned, ambivalence about these infestations has resurfaced in recent years as they have gained new value for soil stabilisation and forest regeneration.

The ambiguity of gorse has persisted, despite the removal in the 1950 Noxious Weeds Act of the distinction between gorse hedge and stray gorse. It may no longer be deliberately planted, but existing hedges and stray stands undoubtedly provide benefits as shelterbelts, sources of bee pollen, erosion prevention and forest regeneration. Some see the latter as a far better long-term option for gorse control than pesticides or biological control. Against that, its persistence in the wild continues to irritate those who see it as a threat to land development, an inhibiting factor in forestry plantations and a considerable fire risk, particularly close to built up areas.

As for farmers’ continuing struggle with gorse, Tom Isern points out that only careful and persistent husbandry over a long time is likely to succeed. But as Tom Brooking has commented, humans seem incapable of waiting that long for a workable solution.[53]

[1]M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folklore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs and Trees with all their Modern Scientific Uses, Harcourt Brace, London, 1931, p 366; Bruce Roy, Ian Popay, Trevor James and Anis Rahman, An Illustrated Guide to Common Weeds of New Zealand, New Zealand Plant Protection Society, Christchurch, 1998, p 156.

[2]N. Clayton, ‘Weeds, people and contested places’, Historiographical essay, History Department, University of Otago, 1999, p 5; Thomas Isern, ‘Companions, stowaways, imperialists, invaders. pests and weeds in New Zealand’, in Environmental Histories of New Zealand, ed. Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2002, pp 241-3.

[3]F.W. Hilgendorf, Weeds of New Zealand and How to Eradicate Them, 5th edition, Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1952, p 1. Hilgendorf believed that gorse could be mastered, an idea challenged by other writers such a Tom Isern, and by the success of gorse itself.

[4]M. Rejmánek, ‘What makes a species invasive?’, in Plant Invasions: General Aspects and Special Problems, ed. P. Pyšek, K. Prach, M. Rejmánek and M. Wade, SPD Academic Publications, Amsterdam, 1995, p 3.

[5]Tasmin Mitchell, Gorse, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Wellington, 1990, p 1.

[6]G.R. Moss, ‘Gorse: A weed problem on 1000s of acres of farmland’, New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, 100,6, 1960, p 567; Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks, Reader’s Digest, Surry Hills, NSW, 1981, p 191.

[7]Thomas Isern, ‘Companions, stowaways …’, pp 241-3.

[8]Charles Darwin, Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle, Henry Colburn, London, 1845, p 403; Joan Druett, Exotic Intruders: The Introduction of Plants and Animals into New Zealand, Heinemann, Auckland, p 63.

[9]Agricola, ‘Live fences’, New Zealand Country Journal 1, 2 (1877), p 94; J.B. Armstrong, ‘The farming and management of hedges’, New Zealand Country Journal 2, 2 (1879), p 242; Otago Provincial Gazette 2, 24 (19 May 1855), p 64.

[10]Agricola, ‘Live fences’, p 94; J.B. Armstrong, ‘The farming and management of hedges’, p 242; A.G. Price, ‘Hedges and shelterbelts on the Canterbury Plains, New Zealand: Transformation of an Antipodean landscape’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83,1 (1993), p 38.

[11]Geoff Bertram, The Impact of Introduced Pests on the New Zealand Economy: A Blueprint for Action, New Zealand Conservation Authority, Wellington, 1999, p 45; Charles Hursthouse, New Zealand, or Zealandia, the Britain of the South, Edward Stanford, London 1857, p 200; R.P. Hargreaves, ‘Farm fences in pioneer New Zealand’, New Zealand Geographer, 21, 3 (1965) p 149; George Matthews in Otago Witness, 22 October 1859 p 5; A.H. Clark, The Invasion of New Zealand by People, Plants and Animals: The South Island, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1949, p 362.

[12]W.T.L. Travers, ‘Lecture on acclimatisation’, New Zealand Country Journal 8, 5 (1864) p 499; ‘Komata’, in New Zealand Farmer 3, 4 (1884), p 113; Jerry Doll, LeRoy Holm, Eric Holm, Juan Pancho and James Herberger, World Weeds: Natural Histories and Distribution, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1997, p 880.

[13]Kevin Hackwell, ‘Gorse: A helpful nurse-plant for regenerating native forest’, Forest and Bird 135, 5 (1980) p 24; G.R. Moss, ‘Gorse …’, p 563.

[14]M. Murphy, ‘Noxious weeds of agriculture’, New Zealand Country Journal 155, (1891), pp 410-11.

[15]G.M. Thomson, The Naturalisation of Plants and Animals in New Zealand, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1922, p 393; Gorse Hedges Act, Ordinances of New Munster and the Province of Nelson VIII, 2 (18 June 1861), p 249; Henry Dickson, ‘Californian thistle’, New Zealand Country Journal 10, 5 (1886) p 404, and 12, 4 (1888), p 325. The prohibition of gorse in towns was also aimed at reducing a potential fire risk among the mostly wooden buildings of the period. See also Peter Holland, ‘Plants and lowland South Canterbury landscapes’, New Zealand Geographer, 44 (1988), p 63; A.E. Woodhouse, George Rhodes of the Levels and his Brothers, Whitcombe and Tombs, Auckland, 1937, p 198; Fencing Amendment Act, Otago Ordinances 30.366 (31 May 1872), p 1953.

[16]T.H. Potts, ‘On hedge plants’, New Zealand Country Journal 2,2 (1878), p 125; Agricola, ‘On hedge plants’, p 94.

[17]Noxious Weeds Administration: Report of the Noxious Weeds Committee of Enquiry,, Government Printer, Wellington, 1973, p 17.

[18]‘An Act for Consolidating the Laws Relating to Public Works’, New Zealand Government Statutes, 50 (31 October 1876), pp 223, 239, 272; ‘An Act to Amend Several Acts Relating to Municipal Corporations, New Zealand Government Statutes, 48 (1 September 1880), p 197; ‘An Act to Regulate the Erection and Maintenance of Dividing Fences’, New Zealand Government Statutes, 28 (23 September 1881), p 212; ‘An Act to Amend the 1882 Public Works Act’, New Zealand Government Statutes, 38 (8 September 1883), pp 254-5.

[19]‘Fencing Bill’, New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (hereafter NZPD) (House of Representatives) 40, (25 August 1881), pp 119-20.

[20]Anon., ‘Farming notes for September/October’, New Zealand Country Journal 5, 8 (1884), p 421; Thomas W. Leys, ed., Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge, H. Brett, Auckland, 1883, p 78.

[21]William Morgan, ‘Fences and enclosures’, New Zealand Country Journal 9,4 (1885), pp 289-93; Anon., ‘New barbed wire fences’, North New Zealand Settler 3,3 (1884), p 79.

[22]Andrew Simson, ‘Fencing’, New Zealand Country Journal 6,1 (1887), pp 49-50; Anon., ‘Farming Notes’ New Zealand Country Journal 2, 8-24 (1884-1901); Anon., ‘Gorse Burner’, New Zealand Country Journal 2, 14 (1890), p 111.

[23]‘Californian Thistle Bill’, NZPD (House of Representatives) 61 (10 July 1888), p 645; and 64 (11 and 24 July 1889), pp 380-1, 619.

[24]‘Agricultural and Pastoral Associations: Replies to circulars sent by Minister of Agriculture’, Appendix to the Journal of the House of Representatives (hereafter AJHR) H-39 (26 August 1891), p 2.

[25]NZPD (House of Representatives) 72 (21 July1891), p 361; ‘Report of the Noxious Weeds Committee’ AJHR 4, I-11 (24 September 1891), p 1.

[26]M. Murphy, ‘Noxious weeds of agriculture’, p 407.

[27]‘Noxious Weeds Bill’ NZPD (Legislative Council) 112 (3August 1900), p 308; Anon., ‘The noxious weeds question’, New Zealand Country Journal 10, 4 (1896), pp 311-14.

[28]Anon. in New Zealand Country Journal 20, 4 (1896), p 310.

[29]Thomson, The Naturalisation of Animals and Plants , pp 528-34.

[30]‘Noxious Weeds Bill’, NZPD (House of Representatives) 93 (14 July 1896), pp 148-58.

[31]‘Noxious weeds’, New Zealand Country Journal 20, 2 (1896), pp 193-4 and 22,3 (1898), p 326; Anon., ‘Noxious weeds’, New Zealand Country Journal 22,1 (1898), p 11; Agricultural Conference, ‘Noxious Weeds Bill’, New Zealand Country Journal, 22, 5 (1898), p 493; Auckland Agricultural Association, ‘Noxious Weeds Bill’, New Zealand Farmer 19,10 (1899), p 383.

[32]Tom Brooking, Lands for the People:, The Highland Clearances and the Colonisation of New Zealand, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 1986, p 166.

[33]Paul Star, ‘From Acclimatisation to Preservation: Colonists and the Natural World in Southern New Zealand’, PhD dissertation, University of Otago, 1997, p 250.

[34]P.R. Stephen, ‘Noxious weeds’, New Zealand Settler, 10 (29 August 1900), p 20.

[35]‘Noxious Weeds Bill’, AJHR, 4, I-9A (23 September 1896), p 1.

[36]Cumberland, Landmarks, pp 188-90.

[37]Thomson, The Naturalisation of Animals and Plants, pp 392, 553-4.

[38]Clark, The Invasion of New Zealand by People, Plants and Animals, pp 359, 363, 376-7; Price, ‘Hedges and Shelterbelts on the Canterbury Plains …’, pp 119, 130, 138.

[39]Holland, ‘Plants and lowland South Canterbury landscapes’, pp 52-3; Gordon Ell, Introduced Wildflowers, New Zealand Weeds, Bush Press, Auckland, p 23.

[40]J.S. Yeats, Farm Trees and Hedges, Massey Agricultural College, Palmerston North, 1942, p 163; Hargreaves, ‘Farm fences in pioneer New Zealand’, p 150; Holland, ‘Plants and lowland South Canterbury landscapes’, p 55.

[41]Hilgendorf, Weeds of New Zealand, p 110; Yeats, Farm Trees and Hedges, p 164.

[42]Moss, ‘Gorse, A Problem …’ , pp 561, 563, 567.

[43]P.R. Barber, ‘Gorse hedges give way to shelterbelts in Canterbury’, New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, 112, 1 (1966), p 55; Holland, ‘Plants and lowland South Canterbury landscapes’, p 53.

[44]J.A. Zabkiewiez, ‘The ecology of gorse and its relevance to New Zealand forestry’, in The Uses of Herbicides in Forestry in New Zealand, New Zealand Forest Research Institute Symposium, 1976, pp 66-8; Kenneth B. Cumberland This is New Zealand: New Zealand in Outline: A Pictorial Description, Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1950) p 17; Cumberland, Landmarks, p 191. In fairness to Cumberland he appears to have been willing to condone gorse on eroding land but not on his favourite pastures, seeing 2-4-5-T as site specific.

[45]R.L. Taylor, Weeds of Roadside and Wasteground in New Zealand, R.L. Taylor, Nelson, p 63; Price, ‘Hedges and shelterbelts on the Canterbury Plains …’, p 136; Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Biological Control of Gorse using Gorse Spider Mites, activities/gorse/, accessed 15 September 2000; Megan Ogle-Mannering, ‘Establishment of Woody Species in the Gorse-Forest Succession’ PhD dissertation, University of Otago, 1995, p 10.

[46]Ell, Introduced Wildflowers, pp 11, 12, 23; Richard Hill, Biological Control of Gorse:, Implications for the Natural Environment and for Primary Production, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Christchurch, 1986, pp 11, 29; P.R. Barber, ‘Gorse hedges …’, p 55; R.A. Sandrey, Gorse and Goats: Considerations for Biological Control of Gorse, Lincoln College, Canterbury, 1987, p 1.

[47]Ogle-Mannering, ‘Establishment of Woody Species …’, pp 238, 240. Nitrogen is fixed by Rhizobium sp., a bacterium that nodulates legume roots.

[48]Hill, Biological Control of Gorse, pp 2, 9-10, 23, 80-1, 89-91, 93-4,104, 114, 117-18.

[49]Roy et al, An Illustrated Guide to Common Weeds, p 156; Michelle Coleman, Assistance for Bursary Candidates, Biocontrol of Gorse, weeds_detail.htm, accessed 23 August 2000; Melanie Shepherd, Biological Control of Gorse using Gorse Spider Mites, grsmtact.htm, accessed 15 September 2000.

[50]Michael Potts, Why Celebrate Gorse?, Press/WhyGorse.htm, and Celebrate Gorse!, http://www.casparcommons. or/Gorse/default.html, accessed 25 July 2000.

[51]Doll et al, World Weeds, p 881; Grieve, A Modern Herbal, p 149; Richard Loader, Richard’s Mavica Pages, Gallery Three, Wild-Flowers,; Anon., Leicestershire Council Grants, Species List, management/shire_grants/lidst.htm, and Michael Stubbs, Naturescape, Hedges, Wild Shrubs and Native Trees, shrubs.htm#hedges, accessed 21 July 2000; Anon., Cheviot Trees, Nursery Stock – Special Offers,, accessed 23 August 2000; S.M. Walters, ed., The European Garden Flora: A Manual for the Identification of Plants Cultivated in Europe Both Out of Doors and Under Glass, IV, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, p 550 .

[52]Charles P. Stone, Clifford W. Smith and J. Timothy Tunison, eds., Alien Plant Invasions in Native Ecosystems of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, Manoa, 1992, p 577; Doll et al, World Weeds, Natural Histories and Distribution, p 880 ; D.N. Allen and Ethel K. Allen, The Leguminosae: A Source Book of Characteristics, Uses and Nodulations, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin. 1981, p 671.

[53]Isern, ‘Companions, stowaways …’, p 245; personal communication, Tom Brooking, University of Otago, 25 September 2000.