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A deciduous shrub, sometimes a tree 30 to 40 ft high, the whole of the younger parts of the plant covered with silvery grey scales; twigs stiff, frequently spine-tipped. Leaves scarcely stalked, linear, 1 to 3 in. long, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. wide, tapered at both ends, upper surface dark greyish green, and not so scaly as the silvery grey undersurface. Flowers very small, produced in April in short clusters; each flower solitary in the axil of a deciduous bract. Fruits orange-coloured, between globose and egg-shaped, 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. long, shortly stalked; in colour by September.
Native of Europe (including Britain) and temperate Asia. With its narrow, silvery leaves and brightly coloured berries clustered thickly on the branches from autumn until February, the sea buckthorn stands out remarkably distinct from all others in our gardens. Its beauty is so striking that it ought to be indispensable to every garden where winter effects are desired. Whilst it is, as the popular name suggests, frequently found on sea-shores, it thrives perfectly well in inland districts. At Kew it succeeds admirably at the margin of water, and in the ordinary soil of the gardens. It is not generally known that the plants are unisexual, so that the female one alone bears fruit, and then only if a male plant be growing near enough for the flowers to become pollinated. It is best grown in groups of about six females to one male. The pollen is carried by wind. Solitary female plants can be fertilised by hand, which is best done by waiting until the pollen of the male plant is ripe – shown by the little shower of yellow dust when the branch is tapped – and then cutting off a branch and shaking it over the female plant. Perhaps no other fruiting shrub is so attractive as this for so long a time. However pressed by hunger, birds will not eat the berries, which are filled with an intensely acid, yellowish juice.
Propagation may be effected by seeds or by layers. The latter is the simpler way of obtaining plants whose sex is known. There appears to be no way of distinguishing seedlings until they flower. In winter, the sex of flowering plants can be ascertained from the buds, which on male plants are conical and conspicuous, while those of the females are smaller and rounded.
Although the sea buckthorn is coastal in distribution in north-west Europe, farther south it is found on rivers and extends to about 6,000 ft in the Alps; the centre of its distribution is in the steppe regions of central Asia. In W. Szechwan, Wilson found plants up to 60 ft high, which differed from the typical state of the species in having the leaves stellate-tomentose above at first, and the twigs covered with villous hairs. These were given varietal status as var. procera Rehd. Typical H. rhamnoldes is found in the same area.
As mentioned on page 375, this species has a wide distribution in Eurasia. It varies somewhat from one region to another, and nine subspecies are described by Arne Rousi in his treatment of the genus (Ann. Bot. Fennici, Vol.8, pp. 177–227 (1971)).
H. tibetana Schlecht. emend. Rousi – Allied to H. rhamnoides but of different habit, being a small bush to about 2 ft high, with tortuous, knobby stems and erect shoots. It was described from a specimen collected by Hooker and Thomson in Tibet, near the frontier with Sikkim, and also occurs in Nepal, Szechwan and Kansu (Rousi, op. cit.). It is in cultivation.