A tree that's two in one

Photo: Christine O'Connor
Photo: Christine O'Connor
Hungry birds have been feasting on the fruits of one of New Zealand's favourite native oddballs, the horoeka, or lancewood.

In its juvenile form, the lancewood is one of our most recognisable bush plants. Stiff toothed leaves hang down from a slender stem like the spokes on a broken umbrella.

This striking growth form lasts 15 or 20 years before a dramatic transition begins. The lancewood starts to branch at the top, producing shorter, wider, less leathery leaves.

Eventually it forms a broadly-crowned tree so different in appearance from the juvenile that early botanists in New Zealand believed the adult and juvenile were separate species.

Reaching up to 15m in height, the mature lancewood is an attractive tree for any-sized garden, and will help to feed and home native birds and insects for many years to come.

You'll find lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius) and the fierce lancewood (Pseudopanax ferox) in most garden centres. Fierce lancewood has bigger, sharper teeth along the leaf margins, grows more slowly, and matures to a smaller, tidier lollipop shape than its cousin.

It is threatened in the wild, but like the common lancewood is easy enough to grow in the garden. Both species prefer an open spot with good drainage.

Throughout Dunedin Botanic Garden's plant collections and bush areas there are hundreds of lancewoods, showcasing a variety of planting styles and growth forms.

There are handsome adult specimens, bony youngsters, and gangly teenagers somewhere in between.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Kate Caldwell.


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