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Catalogue of a Life's Work

Hackfalls Arboretum, Catalogue of Plant Collection. Robert Berry,
privately published, 2016. 436 pages.

The Hackfalls Arboretum Catalogue documents an outstanding achievement. New Zealand farmer, dendrologist, and IOS member Bob Berry has amassed a collection of over 3,000 taxa at the homestead of his family farm in Tiniroto, near Gisborne, and now has published his database, including many photos of trees and close-ups of leaves. The book is a record of his life’s work and was published in 2016, the year Bob turned 100.

A concise introduction provides historical background, tracing the development of the sheep and cattle station since European settlement and the previous events that shaped the land and vegetation. Also included are key facts regarding climate, topography, and soil. A few lines at the end provide a hint of the treasures to come: “During the 1980s I made several seed collecting trips to Mexico…  The reason for so many trips was that some oak species do not seed every year and some seed lots did not germinate.” Hackfalls Arboretum’s most salient feature is its collection of Mexican oaks, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and the catalogue records not only information as to seed origin but also taxonomical discussion. In 2004, Allen Coombes, former IOS President and at the time botanist at Hillier Gardens and Arboretum in the UK, sojourned in Hackfalls and checked the identification of the oaks in the collection. Many of his corrections and comments are included in the catalogue.

The list of plants includes scientific names and, in the case of species, native range. Additional information includes precise location in the arboretum and measurements (estimated height and actual trunk diameter, taken in 2004) and source from which the plant material was acquired. For the quercophile, the most interesting section of the book would be found under the letter Q, but the quantity and variety of other plants is staggering:

Bob Berry next to Quercus insignis at Hackfalls Arboretum
© Diane Playle

over 400 taxa of Rhododendron, over 100 each of Acer and Populus (one of Bob’s first interests), over 70 each of Magnolia, Camelia, and Prunus, and over 50 each of Eucalyptus and Sorbus, to name a few of the 467 genera in the collection. (Roses are written off in a single line: “About 100 cultivars and a few species in the three gardens at Hackfalls.”)

The section on Quercus takes up about a third of the book, due of course to the number of trees listed (292) but also to the many photographs included and the detailed notes. Many origin notes testify to relationships with nurseries and arboreta around the world, but especially with Eastwoodhill Arboretum, New Zealand’s National Arboretum created by Douglas Cook. Bob Berry donated many of the Mexican oaks in Eastwoodhill’s collection and also catalogued the trees there. The richest detail is found under Bob’s Mexican collections, including precise information on where the seed was sourced and in many cases taxonomical discussion resulting from Allen Coombes’s work identifying the various taxa. Bob recognizes Allen as “the current European expert on Mexican oaks” in his introduction to the book, but on occasion chooses to respectfully disagree with his opinions. The entry for Quercus affinis f. subintegra (A.DC.) Trel. is a good example: “wild seeds from Berry #8413 from near Zacualtipan, Hidalgo, Mexico. Allen Coombes said that this is not now regarded as distinct from Q. affinis. However, the seed came from the locality where Trelease found and named the form, these two trees and the parent tree in Mexico are identical in leaf to his description.” In other instances, the notes include observations made after Allen’s visit, which may alter the identification. Under Quercus candicans × xalapensis?, he notes: “I had it as Q. orizabae, corrected by Allen Coombes as Q. candicans × sartorii but another non-hybrid seedling from the same seed source … has now fruited with similar biennial acorns and is obviously Q. xalapensis. The original tree in Mexico had entire leaves.” The notes also record telling details: different specimens of Q. obtusata are shown to have young leaves that are red in some cases and green in others, with the clarification that the latter may be the form previously named Q. panduriformis. And we also find useful information regarding the behavior of this species in Hackfalls’s climate: Q. oleoides is described as “the only true evergreen of the Mexican oaks at Hackfalls, all others are semi-evergreen and lose their old leaves in late spring.”

Do not expect sophisticated layout or even editorial diligence, but you will find in the Hackfalls Catalogue a down-to-earth approach, rich in facts and detail, which reflects Bob’s personality. In an interview published in Oak News & Notes Vol. 14, No. 2, when asked what oak species he would like to be, he answered: “I have never thought of such a thing! I don’t even hug trees. My attitude is entirely scientific and intellectual. I leave mysticism to others.” The catalogue of the plant collection at Hackfalls Arboretum earns its place in a dendrologist’s library, both as a source of information on Mexican oaks and as a record of a remarkable life’s work that will serve as an inspiration to many.


A copy of the book can be ordered from Peter Jackman, 672 Back Ormond Rd, R D 1, Gisborne, New Zealand. Email: pjackman@clear.net.nz (Cost 120 New Zealand Dollars + postage)