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An evergreen shrub or small tree up to 20 ft high in a wild state; young shoots and leaf-stalks covered with a close, dull white felt. Leaves alternate, firm and rather leathery in texture; 4 to 12 in. long, 3 to 8 in. wide; ovate to oval, rounded or truncate at the base, pointed, the margin scalloped into large irregular lobes or teeth, the larger ones of which stand out one inch from the main body of the leaf; upper surface at first greyish, with a covering of down which eventually wears off, leaving it glabrous and dark glossy green tinged with purple, especially on the midrib; the under-surface is permanently clothed with a milk-white felt; stalk 2 to 5 in. long, stout. Flower-heads greenish white, individually small and about 1⁄6 in. long, but produced in huge terminal panicles sometimes 12 in. long, and 16 in. wide, much branched.
Native of the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and one of the most remarkable of the wonderful shrubby composites of that Dominion. It ranges up to 2,000 ft altitude and flowers from August to October. In England it flowers in early spring, sometimes so early as not to escape frost. It is hardy only in the milder parts of the country, and at Kew needs winter protection. The late Canon A. T. Boscawen grew it excellently at Ludgvan, near Penzance, and it is a common shrub in the Scilly Isles, especially on Tresco, where it finds a place in cottagers’ gardens and is even planted as a wind-break. Put to that purpose, its leaves get too much torn and battered to leave them much beauty, but at its best it is a noble foliage plant. It does not appear to flower freely if given very generous treatment at the root, but that is no great loss. In a breeze the leaves reveal their white under-surface, which gives a very agreeable contrast to the dark shining green upper one.
This description is made from plants I have seen growing in this country, but it is possible some of them may be B. rangiora Buchanan, which Cheeseman regarded as a ‘trivial variety of B. repanda from which it differs in no important character’ but which has larger glossy leaves, whereas those of typical repanda are dull green. Allan, in Flora of New Zealand (1961), gives it as a variety (var. rangiora (Buchan.) Allan), but adds that the whole B. repanda complex needs further study. A purple-leaved form is also in cultivation.
The purple-leaved cultivar mentioned is ‘Purpurea’, which has leaves of a bronze-purple shade above, white beneath. This clone descends from a plant found growing wild in the Waganui district of New Zealand (C. J. Metcalf, The Cultivation of New Zealand Shrubs, pp 61-2).