Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pseudopanax lanceolata

Lancewood, horoeka

Everyone in New Zealand can recognise the Lancewood tree in the early stages of its life. The narrow, toothed downward pointing leaves are distinctive. The adult tree is less readily identified yet makes an interesting small tree for the garden and it is particularly good for ultra small gardens or makes continental style landscapes.

The Lancewood actually goes through four stages of growth – two juvenile stages an intermediate stage and the adult stage. The first stage is the seedling stage, when the leaves are rounded or have very deeply toothed leaves. Very quickly the seedling passes into the popular second stage. The long lanceolate leaves can be up to 90 cm long and only 2cm wide. The leaves are rigid, leathery and a dark olive green colour with an obvious orange or yellow mid rib. The third or intermediate stage is when the main stem starts branching and the new leaves become shorter and erect rather than downward pointing. The fourth stage is when the tree forms a round bushy head. Metcalf (1987) suggests it takes up to 15 years to grow from seedling to mature tree. This might be true in nature but in good garden conditions 10 years would be more accurate.

Apart from the leaves the single narrow trunk is interesting with its wavelike bark structure is different from the smooth round trunks of other trees. As it fully matures all the juvenile leaves fall off leaving a small round headed tree ideal for all gardens. Some excellent examples can be found in the herb garden in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

The flowers and fruit are insignificant in the overall aesthetics of the tree. They appear in small umbels and individual flowers have no petals. The fruit is about the size and colour of a small black olive.

Over the years nurserymen and plant breeders have hybridised P. crassifolius with P. arboreus to produce a range of attractive hybrids. Sometimes these are offered as a group of hybrids through selected forms are propagated by cuttings and sold as a named Cultivar.

This exotic looking tree is unusual in the world of plants and has taken a special place in many gardens because of its juvenile foliage. However it is also a very good landscape plant in its adult form as well.

The name Pseudopanax is derived from two words ‘pseudo’ meaning false meaning ‘not a tree’ panax. It belongs to the family Araliaceae and is related to a range of foliage plants used in conservatories and in gardens.

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