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A tree to 30 m tall, often with a more or less straight trunk. Bark with flaking, papery scales, variably bright orange; slightly more rugged with age. Shoots slender (1-2 mm thick), red-brown, with small raised white lenticels; buds conic, c. 7 × 3 mm, appressed to the shoot, reddish brown. Leaves deciduous, 3-7.5 × 2-4.5 cm, ovate, with a sometimes oblique, rounded or truncate base (rarely slightly cordate) and tapering somewhat towards a rounded tip; finely toothed and also more or less lobulate, not plane; pallid, slightly glaucous green above and glaucous beneath; rough to the touch due to the presence of tiny raised papillae, which are very finely pubescent; lateral veins in 8-11 pairs. Petiole c. 5 mm. Autumn colour yellow or orange. Male flowers solitary, female flowers in 3s. Cupules very large (15-30 mm long), with 3 or 4 valves, lamellose, on 1-3 mm stalks; nutlet very large (to 20 mm long), yellowish, winged (Nothofagus 2007–2008); (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2020).
Distribution Chile Valparaíso, Metropolitano, O'Higgins, Maule, Ñuble and Bío Bío regions
Habitat Coastal and mountain forests, 100 - 1100 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Vulnerable (VU)
This rare species is very distinctive and is one of the most obviously ornamental Nothofagus; the papery bark of younger trees may even recall that of the Paperbark Maple Acer griseum, and its rufous tints offer a lovely contrast with the distinctively glaucous cast of the foliage. Its fruit are also the largest of the genus. The species is assessed as Vulnerable (Baldwin, Barstow & Rivers 2018) since the increasingly fragmented wild population is more and more subject to forest fires set by humans.
Nothofagus glauca is one of several Chilean species first introduced to Europe by the Forestry Commission in 1976-9. A trial plantation in the Quantock Forest (probably in Great Wood near Over Stowey) had thriving plants to 1.36 m tall in 1985 (Clarke 1988), but in 2020 no records could be found to indicate if any of these trees had survived. Planted in gardens, the success of seedlings from the 1976 introduction was mixed; two at Alice Holt Lodge in Surrey had died back by 1986 (Bean 1988) and have since been lost; in the same county, one in the Royal Holloway College Arboretum at Egham had bent to the horizontal and was only 4 m tall in 2010, though it was otherwise quite healthy (Tree Register 2020). In the much cooler, wetter climate of Brook Hall in Co. Derry, Northern Ireland, a specimen was regrowing a new top from 5 m when seen in 2000 (Tree Register 2020); another at the Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire failed some time after 1985 (Tree Register 2020). The best success has been in sites which are moderately warm but generally wet enough in summer: the larger of two in the National Collection at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex was 21 m × 44 cm dbh in 2018, with a beautiful straight orange bole, and was closely matched by the late Dr Jimmy Smart’s planting at Marwood Hill in Devon (Tree Register 2020). In the wild, trees experience periods of intense summer heat, though very little frost in winter.
More recent introductions of this strikingly attractive tree have suggested a better tolerance of growing conditions across the UK, though a promising 6 m plant at White House Farm in Kent in 2009 was cut the base in the intense cold of the following winter (and has coppiced strongly) (Tree Register 2020). Trees from Rae & Baxter 38, collected in 1996, had reached 8 m at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens by 2013, and the same height at Plas Newydd on Anglesey by 2016 (Tree Register 2020). A tree from a collection made by Bernardo Escobar in 2001 was 4.5 m tall in 2015 (Tree Register 2020) in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, a chilly place, though it was growing in the very sheltered microclimate of the upper Chilean terrace behind the glasshouses. Specimens from these or from other contemporaneous collections had also reached about 10 m by 2019 at the Bodenham Arboretum in Worcestershire (a rather frosty spot); at Logan Botanic Garden in the south-west of Scotland; at Howick Hall, in a sheltered valley near the sea in Northumberland; and at Birr Castle in Co. Offaly, Ireland (Tree Register 2020).
This highly ornamental and threatened tree still seems not to have found a place in gardens in the north-western United States, in New Zealand or in south-eastern Australia, where it should be expected to thrive.