New Zealand has four species of southern beech (Nothofagus), which is different to beech found in the northern hemisphere. Similar species live in southern South America, Australia, and at higher altitudes in New Caledonia and New Guinea (and fossils have been found in Antarctica). Beech forest grows on poor soils and in mountainous and cooler areas. It was long thought that beech trees had evolved from ancestral trees that had been in New Zealand when it broke away from Gondwana 85 million years ago. But recent DNA research has shown that beech species living in New Zealand today are more recent arrivals. They probably established in New Zealand from seeds carried across the sea from Antarctica or Australia.
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Photograph by Lloyd Homer
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