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Shrub or tree to 3 m (rarely to 15 m); typically multistemmed. Branchlets short and yellow-pubescent. Leaves deciduous, somewhat leathery, distinctly folded, 1–2 × 0.9–1.7 cm, ovate to orbicular, upper surface with scattered golden hairs particularly along the midrib, lower surface with golden hairs restricted to the veins and midrib, four to six secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins crenate, apex obtuse or emarginate; petiole 0–0.3 cm; stipules to 0.3 cm long, ± persistent. Leaves turn golden-yellow (rarely red or orange) before falling. Staminate flowers in groups of one to three and with recurved peduncles; stamens 6–12. Pistillate flowers in groups of three; cupule 0.8 cm long, four-valved and covered with recurved hook-like scales. Nuts three, winged. Flowering October to February, fruiting March to May (Australia). Van Steenis 1953, Hewson 1989. Distribution AUSTRALIA: Tasmania. Habitat Subalpine communities between 500 and 1300 m asl on the western and central plateau mountains. On exposed sites, makes a wiry, tangled shrub forming dense, impenetrable stands. USDA Hardiness Zone 8 (?). Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Hewson 1989; NT530, NT533. Cross-references B18, S348.
In the event, Nothofagus gunnii has probably been included here somewhat under false pretences. It is notoriously difficult to grow in cultivation, but when the list of species to include in New Trees was drawn up it was growing at Wakehurst Place. The propagation team there had succeeded in raising a single seedling from a collection made by David Hardman and Andy Jackson in Tasmania in 2000 (ETAZ 34). It had been planted out and had achieved a height of about 60 cm when someone dug or pulled it up, rather carelessly, damaging the roots and thus reducing even further its chances of survival. The thief clearly recognised its value and interest and is probably among those who will read this book – a keen dendrologist. The theft was widely reported in the British press but as usual no suspect was ever traced. No further specimens are known in British gardens. In its native Tasmania, where it is the only native deciduous tree (Malahide 1971), it has an ‘outstanding’ presence (Elliot & Jones 1997), producing stunning autumn colours from appealingly contorted trees. The same authors say, however, that it is difficult to ‘tame in cultivation’; they prescribe a cool, sheltered, moist but freely draining site, and note that although it experiences harsh conditions in the wild, it does not tolerate long periods of cold weather in Europe or North America. In Australian conditions it can apparently be grown in pots of acidic medium, and even used for bonsai (Elliot & Jones 1997). Experiments should be made with mycorrhizal inoculation of seedlings.
Ken Gillanders (2008) reports that seed from cultivated N. gunnii in Tasmania can give hybrid offspring, but that the other parent(s) have yet to be identified.