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Elaeocarpus comprises around 360 species of trees (rarely shrubs), found primarily in the Old World tropics. They are evergreen or semi-evergreen, with alternate or spirally arranged leaves and caducous stipules. The leaves are simple and may have a swelling at the apex of the petiole, which could indicate a reduction from trifoliolate to unifoliolate leaves. The margins are toothed or entire and the veins are prominent. Leaves typically turn bright red before falling. Inflorescences are racemose and either axillary or borne directly on the branch surfaces (ramiflorous). The flowers are hermaphrodite and 4– or 5-merous; the petals are often divided into linear lobes and the stamens are numerous. The fruit is a blue or black drupe containing a hard, deeply sculptured endocarp (Harden 2000b, Tang & Chamlong 2005).
Elaeocarpus is large and diverse, containing some interesting trees for temperate gardens, with attractive foliage and outstanding fruits, but as a principally tropical genus the selection is limited. Its tropical background also suggests that any species tried outside in our area should be given a warm sheltered site. In addition to those described below, the Chinese E. glabripetalus Merr. has been in cultivation at Tregrehan since 1999 (grown from Qingpu 9712), but the specimens there have been badly damaged by deer, and although growing back they were only about 1 m tall in 2007 (T. Hudson, pers. comm. 2007). The same garden also has young plants of E. lacunosus Wall. ex Kurz, grown from Keith Rushforth’s 1999 collection on Fan Si Pan, Vietnam (KR 1976), where it formed trees of 15–20 m.
Fertile moist soil, acid to neutral in pH, will give the best results (Huxley et al. 1992). Propagation is usually from seed, but germination may be very slow and erratic, requiring a long soak in water to overcome germination inhibitors (Ellison 1999), or even physical violence to crack the drupe (Forest Farmers Association 2000). Semi-ripe cuttings (Huxley et al. 1992) would seem to offer an easier option.