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An evergreen tree or shrub of dense, leafy habit, said to attain a height of almost 100 ft in valleys where it is sheltered from the Pacific winds, but more common under 50 ft high and often a shrub on the coast. Young shoots sticky, minutely downy. Leaves set about 1⁄4 in. apart on the twigs, ovate, wedge-shaped or rounded at the base, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. wide, margins edged with small usually bluntish teeth, upper surface dark varnished green, lower surface paler, finely net-veined, often sprinkled with minute dark glands, glabrous on both sides; petiole about 1⁄8 in. long. Male flowers solitary, shortly stalked, with ten to sixteen stamens; anthers red. Valves of husk four, narrower than the nutlets, with short tooth-like processes.
Native of the coasts of Chile from Valdivia province to Cape Horn, also occurring in Argentina on Tierra del Fuego and in Santa Cruz province. The date of introduction of this species, and of N. antarctica, is usually given as 1830, though Loudon, the authority for this statement, merely gave it as the reputed date and mentioned no specimens. It was in this year that Capt. King’s surveying expedition to the Magellan region returned to Britain, and it may be that they brought with them plants or seeds of both species. Thirteen years later, J. D. Hooker sent to Kew a Wardian case containing plants of both N. betuloides and N. antarctica, but whether these survived the reversal of seasons is not recorded. It is, however, certain that N. betuloides was established in cultivation in the second half of the 19th century, and available in the trade.
N. betuloides is hardy except in the coldest parts, though it is unlikely to stand exposure to cold, drying winds. It is a sombre but impressive tree of dense habit, its dark green leaves closely crowded on the branchlets. Its relative N. dombeyi is of more open habit, with usually paler, more widely spaced leaves, which are sharply toothed and mostly lanceolate (at least at the tips of the shoots); in N. betuloides the leaves are stubby even at the ends of the shoots and the toothing blunt. There is the further difference that in N. betuloides the male flowers are solitary, whereas in N. dombeyi they are mostly borne in threes.
At Grayswood Hill, Haslemere, there is a fine specimen of this species, planted in 1882. In 1906 it measured 34 × 21⁄4 ft; a recent measurement is 50 × 63⁄4 ft (1969). In previous editions of this work a tree at Pencarrow, Cornwall, was mentioned; this was planted in 1847 and measured 36 × 41⁄4 ft in 1903; it died and was cut down in 1925; another in the collection there, planted several decades later, measures 46 × 7 ft (1957). Another old specimen of which the planting date is known grows at Hafordunas, Denbigh; planted in 1855 it is 46 ft high and has three stems, the largest 81⁄2 ft in girth (1960); its size is given by Elwes and Henry as 36 ft × 5 ft 2 in. in 1904.
Some other specimens recorded recently are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in Heather Garden, 33 × 41⁄2 ft (1965); Kitlands, Leith Hill, Surrey, 45 × 8 ft. (1965); Bulkley Mill, Conway, 49 × 31⁄2 ft (1960); Muncaster Castle, Cumberland, 72 × 51⁄4 ft (1971); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 52 × 61⁄2 ft (1966); Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow, 85 × 83⁄4 ft (1966).
specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 46 × 5 ft (1979); Grayswood Hill, Haslemere, Surrey, pl. 1882, 52 × 73⁄4 ft (1982); Pencarrow, Cornwall, pl. 1847, 52 × 8 ft at 3 ft (1975); Hafodunos, Gwyn., pl. 1847, 59 × 91⁄2 ft (1984); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 52 × 71⁄4 ft (1980); Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 52 × 31⁄2 ft (1975).