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An evergreen tree up to 30 ft in height, with a slender trunk and dark coloured, almost black, young wood, and forming a dense mass of twiggy shoots. Leaves 1 to 21⁄2 in. long, oblong, obovate or elliptic, glabrous, of a pale shining green; the margins entire but wavy. The flowers come in the axils of the leaves, usually singly, but occasionally two or more together, and have dark chocolate-purple petals 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. The fruit is a capsule 1⁄2 in. in diameter, wrinkled when old, the valves thin.
Native of both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, reaching up to 3,000 ft altitude. Although it may be damaged or killed in severe winters, and be less hardy than such species as P. patulum and P. dallii, it seems to thrive better in our average climate than any other species so far introduced, as well as being the commonest. Even in eastern England it has attained 30 ft in sheltered places, and has produced self-sown seedlings in gardens as far east as Sussex. The flowers are borne very abundantly where it thrives, but are not conspicuous; their chief attraction is an exquisite honey-like fragrance, strongest in the evening, and then apparent yards away from the tree. The black young shoots and pale green leaves make a strong contrast. The cut foliage lasts long in water and is much used in floristry.
The following specimens have been recorded: Lanarth, Cornwall, 50 × 6 ft at 1 ft (1966); Tregrehan, Cornwall, 50 × 33⁄4 ft × 3 ft (1957); Newton Abbot, Devon, pl. 1885-90, 45 × 41⁄2 ft (E. Hyams, Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 91 (1966), p. 130); Lytchett Heath, Poole, Dorset, pl. 1889, 171⁄2 ft high and 30 ft in circumference of spread (Journ R.H.S., Vol. 56 (1931), p. 58); Abbotsbury, Dorset, 35 × 3 ft (1957); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 35 × 61⁄4 ft (1966); Ashbourne House, Co. Cork, 33 × 43⁄4 ft at 3 ft (1966).
specimens: Abbotsbury, Dorset, 47 × 41⁄4 ft (1980); Culzean Castle, Ayrs., 46 × 6 ft at 3 ft (1984); Castle Kennedy, Wigt., 52 × 4 ft (1984); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 43 × 43⁄4 ft (1980).
† cv. ‘Eila Keightley’. – Leaves with a central variegation of yellow and yellowish green; midrib and veins cream-coloured. Raised in a New Zealand nursery. It is offered by some nursuries under the later, illegitimate name ‘Sunburst’. (Metcalfe, Cult. N.Z. Tr. and Shr., p. 224).
† cv. ‘Irene Paterson’. – Ground-colour of leaves white, which becomes speckled with green and grey-green.
† cv. ‘Tom Thumb’. – Foliage similar in colour to that of ‘Purpureum’, but habit bushy and compact, to about 3 ft high. The same or similar clone has been named ‘Purpureum Nanum’.