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A large evergreen shrub or small tree up to 60 ft in the wild; trunk furrowed, young stems greenish yellow. Leaves leathery, oval or ovate, 1 to 41⁄2 in. long; half to two-thirds as wide (occasionally almost as broad as long), usually glossy above medium green or yellowish green, glabrous, the apex blunt, the base slightly unequal-sided but often more or less symmetrical; stalk yellowish, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers yellowish green, small, produced during May in axillary racemes or panicles 1 to 3 in. long. Fruits oblong, 1⁄4 in. long.
Native of New Zealand up to 3,500 ft altitude; cultivated at Kew since the middle of the last century, but only hardy there in mild winters or with the protection of a wall. Perhaps the climate of the Thames Valley does not suit it, for there are many inland gardens in the southern and western parts of the country where it is hardy. It may be too that some clones are more tender than others, as might be expected in a species with such a wide range, both in latitude and altitude. In the western and south-western parts of the country it makes an excellent shelter plant against the Atlantic winds. It has no objection to chalky soils.
Being completely dioecious and usually represented in any one garden by a single clone, G. littoralis is not often seen in fruit. But at Inverewe in northwestern Scotland both sexes are grown and self-sown seedlings appear in abundance.
In previous editions a tree at Kilmacurragh in Co. Wicklow was mentioned, then 20 ft high. This is now 45 ft high and 11 ft in girth at 1 ft (1966). In other western gardens, and at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, it is almost as high though of smaller girth.
G. littoralis is variable in the relative width of its leaves. The more common form, of which there are both male and female clones, has leaves on the average slightly over half as broad as long and not markedly oblique at the base. But some cultivated plants have relatively broader leaves (often almost as broad as long), more lop-sided at the base. It is likely that some plants of this character have been wrongly called G. lucida. These broad-leaved plants, like the commoner form, also occur in both sexes: those at Exbury are male, but the similar tree at Tresco Abbey in the Isles of Scilly is female. In both gardens the leaves are dull green.
G. littoralis strikes very readily from cuttings of half-ripened wood in gentle heat, or of somewhat harder wood under handlights.
This species has attained the size of 46 × 111⁄4 ft at 3 ft at Castle Kennedy in Wigtonshire.
cv. ‘Variegata’. – The centrally variegated sport mentioned on page 301 has occurred in several gardens and one such is marketed as ‘Dixon’s Cream’. But to state that it can be perpetuated by cuttings is over optimistic, since the resulting plants are inclined to revert to the original form with marginal variegation.