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Small evergreen tree or shrub to 40 ft (or even 60 ft) high. Leaves stiff, leathery, elliptic or broadly elliptic, acute at both ends or very slightly acuminate at the apex, slightly decurrent onto the petiole, mostly 3 to 4 in. long and 1 to 2 in. wide, entire, glabrous, dark green and slightly lustrous above, paler and duller beneath, petiole 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Inflorescence axillary, decussate racemose 1 to 2 in. long lengthening rapidly at anthesis, sometimes two or three borne above one another, bracts in decussate pairs, 1⁄4 in. long, somewhat membranous, glabrous except for a minutely floccose-ciliolate margin, light green, early deciduous. Flowers white, sometimes sweetly scented; sepals four, small; petals four, imbricate in early bud, about 1⁄8 in. long, joined in pairs by the bases of the two filaments and between pairs only at the very base, irregularly notched, or rounded and shallowly bilobed or trilobed; stamens two about equal to petals. Fruit a dark blue ellipsoid drupe, 5⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. long, with a fine bloom, flesh very thin, stone shallowly ribbed.
Native of Madeira and the Canary Islands, introduced in 1784. It is marginally hardy in Britain, even in the south, and is not widely grown. Where, however, local conditions allow it to do so it can develop into a handsome and impressive evergreen tree, as in the case of the notable examples at Abbotsbury on the coast of Dorset, which flower well and fruit. The larger of these measures 55 × 81⁄2 ft (1972); at Caerhays, Cornwall, there is a two-stemmed tree 30 ft high.
The wood is reported to be extremely heavy and hard and has been much used in its native areas. In 1868 the Rev. R. T. Lowe writing in his A Manual Flora of Madeira remarks about ‘the yearly increasing scarceness of the tree, which indeed seems likely soon to become extinct altogether’.