Flowers of this family are not common in most parts of Tasmania, but our forms are too interesting to allow us to neglect hem. The family is a large one, and found almost throughout the world, but though it abounds in temperate as well as tropical climates, it is not largely represented in Tasmania.
Though a natural group, there is no mark by which it can certainly be known. As in so many families, it is only by general likeness that we can recognise its members. It passes without break into its neighbouring families, and even with experienced botanists it is often a matter of doubt whether some particular plant should be placed just here or in a related group. Eucryphia might with equal justice be placed in this, with the Roses, or with the Hypericums. Were we acquainted with no Saxifrages except those of Tasmania there would be no sufficient reason why they should be placed in a separate family from Roses; it is upon the common habit of forms in other countries that the family is established.
We have five species, and each belongs to a separate genus. Of these, four should claim our attention. They are Native Laurel, Horizontal, Eucryphia, and Bauera.
Laurel is about, if not quite, our prettiest wild flower. It grows in woodlands on our hillsides, and attains the size of a large shrub in favourable places, but it has too branched and spreading a habit to grow tall. The leaves are clustered towards the ends of the branches and are placed alternately. They are large, flat, and marked along the border by short, blunt serrations. There are many flowers in loose bunches which grow from the ends of the branches; each is nearly an inch in diameter when fully out, and is white or tinged with pink. The thalamus is expanded into a short tube, which is blended with the base of the pistil. The calyx appears as a continuation of it, so that it is impossible to say where the tube ends and the calyx begins. There are generally six sepals, but the number is variable; they are green, and not conspicuous. The petals are the same number as the sepals; they are broad and spreading. There are also as many stamens as petals; they are of medium length and of no exceptional structure. The pistil, except at its broad base, is free and erect. It is composed of two blended carpels, and, unlike those plants we have already described, they are so blended that the ovarian chambers are combined to form a single cavity: the numerous ovules arise along two lines running down its side. The style is single, but it has a two-lobed, terminal stigma. The pistil does not change much in maturing into fruit; it only becomes larger and tougher, and when ripe it splits along the junction of the carpels, each curving back to allow the seeds to escape. These have a well-developed membraneous wing on one side, which enables them to be dispersed by the wind. Laurel is confined to Tasmania, and the genus contains only one other species, which differs but slightly from it and has a very restricted home in Southern Queensland and the adjoining part of New South Wales.
Eucryphia Milligani. Hook. [See p. 64
Horizontal is a most interesting tree, in a genus all by itself, and occurs nowhere but in the western part of Tasmania. In fairly open forest it is an erect tree, with a rather thin stem, but where it thrives most is in damp, still valleys. There it grows rapidly, and its slender stem is bent to the ground by the weight of its crown. From this arise numerous erect branches, which in turn lay themselves flat and continue the same process. This forms an impenetrable shrub, which a traveller has either to cut a tunnel through or climb over.
Each of our Saxifrages has a character quite different from the others. Horizontal has opposite, simple leaves, which are oblong, thick, marked along the margin by blunt serrations, and 1 to 2 inches long. The flowers are small, green, and placed one or two together close in the upper axils. The sepals are four or five, and broadly spreading. The petals similar in number, but smaller and narrow. There are twice as many stamens, and the pistil, which is like that of Laurel, matures only one or two seeds.
Eucryphia is often called Pinkwood, or Leatherwood, but the original Leatherwood was a very different plant, belonging to the Boronia family, and very like Stinkwood. The name Eucryphia should be used, except by those who are too conceited to improve, but those who have a rooted objection to what will assist accuracy may call it Pinkwood without causing much confusion. But even this is objectionable, for Beyeria, one of the Euphorbia family, is also called Pinkwood. It is found only in the western half of Tasmania, but there grows from sea-level to almost the tops of mountains. At a low altitude it is a medium-sized tree; at a high one it becomes almost a procumbent shrub. The leaves and flowers also become smaller as a high elevation is reached. This change of feature is not exactly in proportion to altitude, the two forms often overlapping; in consequence of this some people prefer to treat them as separate species. The leaves are in opposite pairs, oblong, with a plain margin, pale on the under surface, and from 1/2 -inch to 2 inches long, according to locality. The flowers are nearly an inch across, and are placed singly in the upper axils. There are four small sepals, and a similar number of large white petals, which give the flowers much the appearance of apple blossoms. The stamens are numerous, forming a circle round the pistil. This latter organ is not at all sunk in the thalamus, and is composed of five slender carpels united along their inner sides. Each has its own style and stigma, and the ovarian cavities are not blended as in the last two genera. The fruit differs little from the pistil of the flower, except in being larger and tougher. There are few seeds in each chamber: they are flat, with a well-formed membraneous wing at the upper end.