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An evergreen tree with a large altitudinal range, giving rise to its natural height being cited in literature as between (2–)10–15(–30) m, obviously reflecting alpine conditions, ‘typical’ mid-elevation conditions, and very particular micro-habitats which might allow exceptionally tall examples to occur. In cultivation it is similarly variable, but perhaps in a condensed range of 5–15 m.
Young shoots downy. Buds and young leaves sticky. Leaves leathery, simple, narrowly oblong to elliptic, with a rounded apex, entire margins, sometimes ciliate, glossy dark green above and glaucous beneath, 3.5–7.5 cm long, 1–1.5 cm wide, always at least three times longer than broad, with a short glabrous petiole to 3 mm long. Flowers solitary, 2.5–5 cm across, sweetly scented, with a pendulous, pubescent stalk to 1.5 cm borne from the leaf axils. Flowers subtended by two bracts (four in E. milliganii). Fruit cylindrical, dry, woody, 1.5 cm long × 6 mm wide, pedicel of the fruit 1.5–2.5 times longer than the fruit (Bausch 1938; Cullen et al. 2011).
Habitat Temperate rainforests of Tasmania
USDA Hardiness Zone 7-10
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
E. lucida is closely related to E. milliganii, the principal differences between them include the size of the flower (2.5–5 cm across in lucida vs. to 1.6 cm across in milliganii); the number of bracts subtending the flower (two in lucida vs. four in milliganii); the leaf apex (rounded in lucida vs. strongly emarginate in milliganii); and the much smaller and more crowded leaves in milliganii (Bausch 1938; Cullen et al. 2011).
Native to Tasmania, where it is abundant in temperate rainforests in the west of the State, it enjoys up to 2.5 m of annual rainfall and is common from low elevation to sub-alpine habitats. It is a vigorous, fast growing component of the forest and dense thickets of it can regenerate in recently disturbed areas (Gray 2004). It is sympatric with the other Tasmanian species, E. milliganii, although this occurs at higher elevations and over a narrower altitudinal range (Wallace 2015).
Hillier & Coombes (2002) suggest it was introduced to Britain in 1820, some 20 years after it was described to science by Jacques Labillardière, who discovered it during a voyage to Oceania that had sailed from France in 1791 (Wikipedia 2018). Little is known about the reception E. lucida received on its introduction. It would almost certainly have been treated with great care and afforded space in glasshouse collections until such time as its rate of growth – or an experimental horticulturist – caused it to be tested out of doors where it was later found to thrive at least in milder parts of Britain, including the west coast of Scotland, Cornwall, Devon and in Ireland.
The species would, eventually, be given an Award of Merit by the RHS in 1936. By this time it had become well established in cultivation and had already been a co-conspirator in the production of two outstanding hybrids: E. × intermedia ‘Rostrevor’ in Northern Ireland (which also received the Award of Merit in the same year as its E. lucida parent!) and E. ‘Penwith’ in Cornwall. Bean (1981) noted good examples on the terraces at Bodnant and at Nymans, and by 1984 the UK and Ireland champion tree was a 13 m specimen at Glendurgan, Cornwall (since lost). Also in 1936, H. R. Cocker from RBG Kew noted a fine specimen thriving in the garden on Isola Madre in Lake Maggiore, Italy (Cocker 1936).
Although it seems to be widespread in cultivation, in 2018 the publicly accessible database of the Tree Register contains records of only eight examples of the species (excluding its cultivars) across the UK and Ireland, the largest of which is a 17 m tree at Mount Usher, County Wicklow, Ireland. The other notable examples are either in Ireland, the west coast of Scotland, or in Devon and Cornwall, with the exception of a tree at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which has reached 9 m height in the sheltered microclimate of the sunken terrace garden behind the temperate lands glasshouse (The Tree Register 2018).
E. lucida is a popular ornamental in its native range and in adjacent areas of Australia and its use in gardens has been promoted here for some time, it is also very important to the Tasmanian apiculture industry – over 70% of all the honey produced in Tasmania relies on the nectar of E. lucida (Gray 2004). It is cultivated in New Zealand where, as in the northern hemisphere, it is a popular summer flowering tree and various cultivars are in the horticultural trade, although E. lucida is generally a bit earlier to flower than the other commonly grown species – in the northern hemisphere it can be flowering by the end of June (pers. obs.). It is equally popular on the west coast of North America, from California to southern British Columbia – the Washington Park Arboretum, for example, cultivates both the species and ‘Pink Cloud’ (University of Washington Botanic Gardens 2018) – but as with most members of the genus it seems to be virtually absent from cultivation in eastern North America. The two pink-flowered cultivars, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Pink Cloud’, have become very popular since their introductions and indeed are capable of growing into singularly beautiful trees.
E. lucida can be distinguished from the hybrids it has given rise to in the following ways: from E. × intermedia ‘Rostrevor’ by the markedly more glaucous underside to the leaves in lucida; from E. ‘Penwith’ by the generally smaller leaves and the downy pubescence adpressed to the shoot in lucida vs. larger leaves and dense and spreading hairs in ‘Penwith’; and from E. × hilleri by its simple leaves vs. compound in × hilleri. Only with the naturally occurring hybrid E. × hybrida is separation sometimes difficult (Cullen et al. 2011).
This is a selection with flowers toward the larger end of the given size-range for the species. The petals are flushed pale pink (paler than in ‘Pink Cloud’) darkening to a crimson centre. It was found in the wild in 1986 and entered cultivation shortly afterwards.
There are several variegated cultivars of E. lucida including ‘Gilt Edge’, ‘Leatherwood Cream’, and ‘Spring Glow’. These all have leaves with cream or creamy-yellow coloured margins and the differences are very slight indeed. ‘Gilt Edge’ is apparently distinguished by flattened flowers and trifoliate leaves (although this latter character is at odds with the description of the parent species, suggesting this may have resulted from some sort of mutation).
Like ‘Ballerina’ this cultivar was first found in the wild by Ken Gillanders in 1984. The parent was a 20 m tall tree and so far this clone has reached 7 m in cultivation in the UK (The Tree Register 2018). It is very similar to ‘Ballerina’ but both the pink flush in the petals and their crimson centres are slightly darker than in ‘Ballerina’, although the two really need to be seen together for this subtle difference to be apparent.
Another point of differentiation would seem to be that one of these cultivars has white, or very pale anthers, while those of the other are dark, although there seems to be no agreement among nurserymen as to which is which, and the illustrations available online and in the catalogues are woefully inconsistent. Suffice to say that pink-flowered forms occur sporadically in the wild, and these exhibit the degrees of variation in their characters expected from natural populations.