Twelve years ago, when the New Zealand Government was pleased to entrust me with the preparation of the "Manual of the New Zealand Flora," the first outline of the limits of the projected work provided for an atlas of plates to illustrate species described therein. It soon became obvious, however, that the attempt to publish both works simultaneously would much delay the appearance of the Manual; and it was finally decided that the publication of the plates should stand over until the more important work of providing a descriptive account of the plants of the Dominion had been completed.
After the appearance of the Manual in 1906 the proposal to provide a series of illustrations was revived, and early in 1907 I was asked by the Department of Education to furnish my views on the subject. Prior to that, however, many suggestions had been made as to the nature of the illustrations to be adopted, and it may be useful to mention the chief of these. In the first place, it was suggested that arrangements might be made for the reproduction, on a reduced scale, of the elaborate folio plates engraved to accompany the descriptions drawn up by Dr. Solander of the plants collected during Cook's first visit to New Zealand in 1769, but which were never actually published; and I understand that the Trustees of the British Museum, as custodians of the plates, were willing to grant the necessary permission. But against this proposal it was at once objected that such a series of plates would give a very incomplete representation of the flora of the Dominion, seeing that the plants collected by Cook were obtained in a few localities on the coast-line of the North Island or in the extreme north of the South Island, and did not include any examples of the mountain or alpine flora, or of the plants restricted to the southern portions of the Dominion. Furthermore, it was represented that the plates themselves, although accurate, and undoubtedly of great historic value, were of somewhat antiquated style, and were deficient in the microscopic analyses now considered essential in all really good botanical drawings. A second suggestion was that the many beautiful plates contained in Sir J.D. Hooker's "Flora Novæ Zelandiæ" and "Flora Antarctica" should be reproduced by photo-lithography, and that to those might be added numerous plates of New Zealand plants contained in the "Botanical Magazine" and "Icones Plantarum." While no objection could be urged against the style and character of these plates, there still remained the fact that they would not constitute an all-round representation of the plants of the Dominion, seeing that they also contained very few examples of the peculiar montane and alpine flora, and that even many important lowland genera were not adequately represented, as, for instance, the genus Coprosma. A third view, which I believe was held by most New Zealand botanists, was I that the plates should be new ones, or, in other words, should be specially drawn for the work.
My own views on the subject, as presented to the Education Department, and, with some slight modification, finally accepted by it, may be given here, as they explain the reasons for the plan of the work, the selection and style of the plates, and the character of the letterpress.