About 40 species of this genus form a peculiar and distinctive feature of the vegetation of New Zealand and that of the outlying islands. The rosettes of long linear leaves differ in appearance from leaves of most other plants, and when the large rosettes, with leaves 2 to 3 ft long, of some species are seen in the northern kauri or the West Coast forest, the appearance is striking. The genus belongs to the Epacris family which is closely related to the heaths, and the smaller members of Dracophyllum have a heath-like appearance. Species range from prostrate cushion-plants to small, sparsely leaved trees. Several species usually form an important part of subalpine and alpine scrub, fellfields, and bogs. On the central North Island pumice plateau, monoao or Dracophyllum subulatum is a major component of the tussock grassland and shrubland vegetation. On hard sites, particularly on flats and in hollows where the frost lies, it is sometimes dominant. Some of the larger-leaved species like nei-nei or D. latifolium are true forest plants. This particular one occurs in the kauri forests. D. matthewsii also occurs in northern forests while D. townsonii and D. traversii are found in Nelson and West Coast forests. One long-leaved species, D. fiordense, which often has only a single head, is found in the subalpine forest and shrubland of West Otago and particularly in Fiordland.
Intermediate sized shrubs with intermediate sized leaves occur in lowland and montane shrubland, along rivers and streams, and in bogs.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.