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A large deciduous tree up to 100 ft high in the wild, occasionally taller; bark of cultivated trees greyish, split into plates by vertical and horizontal fissures; on mature wild trees oak-like except in its ruddy tinge; young shoots glabrous. Leaves arranged alternately in two opposite rows, ovate to oblong, mostly blunt at the apex, rounded or broadly wedge-shaped at the base, unequal sided, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide, irregularly set with small, triangular teeth, and usually more or less lobulate, at least in the lower half, dark green above, pale and rather glaucous beneath; veins commonly in eight or nine pairs, occasionally up to eleven; stalk 1⁄8 in. long. Male flowers produced singly in the leaf-axils, with thirty to forty stamens. Fruits about 3⁄8 in. long, with the usual three nutlets, the centre one flattened; valves of involucre with simple, gland-tipped processes.
N. obliqua is the most warmth-loving of the S. American beeches. Its equatorward limit actually lies in the zone of Mediterranean climate, where it occurs in shrubby form on the Campana de Quillota between Santiago and Valparaiso. Its southern limit is around 41° S. Before the colonisation of the forest region it formed extensive forests in the central valley of Chile from about 38° S. as far south as the northern end of Lake Llanquihue, but these have long since given way to arable and pasture, with isolated trees and copses here and there. But full roblé forest still exists in the remoter parts of the Andes. In Argentina, it occurs near the Chilean frontier in Neuquen province.
The roblé yields when mature a durable reddish timber, comparable to oak in the uses to which it is or has been put (shipbuilding, interior joinery, furniture, etc.) – hence, no doubt, the common Chilean name, which is simply the Spanish word for oak. The native names pellin and hualo are also used by Chilean foresters, the former for mature trees and heartwood, the latter for young trees and for the sapwood, which is soft and white.
It is usually stated that N. obliqua was introduced by the Veitchian collector William Lobb in 1849, which is actually the year of publication of an article in The Gardeners’ Chronick, mentioning plants grown under the name Fagus obliqua in Veitch’s nursery. But this account, and another published two years later in the Journal of the Horticultural Society, are so confused that it is impossible to determine what species was involved; the plants may have been a mixture, consisting of an evergreen species and another which was perhaps N. procera. In any case, Elwes and Henry, writing early this century, knew of no specimens in this country, and all the oldest trees in cultivation were raised from seeds brought back by the former from S. America in 1902. Later introductions of which there is record are: by F. R. S. Balfour in 1910, who distributed plants from 1914 onward; and by Harold Comber in 1926.
N. obliqua succeeds remarkably well in the British Isles. It is hardy, grows well on a wide range of soils (though not on chalk), sets good crops of seed and even self-sows itself. It is also fast-growing and makes an elegant specimen. The ugly cracked bark is a defect, but in time this should give way to the handsome furrowed, richly coloured bark of maturity.
The following list of specimens from A. F. Mitchell’s records includes most of the older trees and all those of which the planting date is known: Kew, west of Azalea Garden, from Elwes introduction of 1902, 83 × 61⁄4 ft and 72 × 51⁄2 ft (1965), and two others in the same area, pl. 1911, 81 × 61⁄4 ft and 70 × 41⁄2 ft (1965); Valley Gardens, Windsor Great Park, pl. 1947, 85 × 41⁄4 ft (1969); Sunningdale Nurseries, Berks, pl. 1905 (Elwes introduction?), 66 × 73⁄4 ft (1958); Grayswood Hill, Surrey, 75 × 81⁄4 ft (1968); Nymans, Sussex, pl. 1928 (Comber introduction), 67 × 6 ft (Magnolia Garden) and 75 × 6 ft (Wilderness, one of several) (1970); Borde Hill, Sussex, 93 × 61⁄4 ft (1971); Tilgate Forest Lodge, Sussex, 80 × 7 ft (1961); Sheffield Park, Sussex, 80 × 6 ft (1968); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in West Wood, 75 × 61⁄2 ft (1965); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1930, 67 × 33⁄4 ft (larger of two) (1965); The Grange, Benenden, Kent, pl. 1920, 74 × 53⁄4 ft (1972); East Bergholt Place, Suffolk, 62 × 5 ft (1972); Holkham, Norfolk, pl. 1918, 68 × 53⁄4 ft (1968); Hergest Croft, Heref., pl. 1917, 60 × 71⁄2 ft (1969); Westonbirt, Glos. (all from Balfour introduction) in Wigmore Bottom, pl. 1924, when 12 ft high, 60 × 4 ft (1966), in Silkwood, pl. 1922, 57 × 53⁄4 ft (1967), in Victory Glade, 60 × 33⁄4 ft (1969); Killerton, Devon, 70 × 63⁄4 ft (1970); Trewithen, Cornwall, pl. 1928 (Comber introduction), 67 × 43⁄4 ft (1971); Caerhays, Cornwall, 84 × 9 ft (1971); Bodnant, Denbigh, 98 × 61⁄2 ft (1966); Muncaster Castle, Cumb., pl. 1925, 72 × 53⁄4 ft and 80 × 41⁄4 ft (1971); Crarae, Argyll, pl. 1936, 60 × 5 ft (1969); Benmore, Argyll, 75 × 51⁄4 ft (1970); Blairquhan, Argyll, pl. 1933, 70 × 61⁄4 ft (1970); Glendoick, Perths., pl. 1922, 60 × 61⁄2 ft (1970).
The following specimens were measured in Eire in 1966: Glasnevin Botanic Garden, 81 × 6 ft; Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow, 75 × 63⁄4 ft; Ashbourne House, Co. Cork, 70 × 61⁄2 ft; Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, pl. 1934, 59 × 4 ft.
For the use of N. obliqua in forestry, see under N. procera.
N. glauca (Phil.) Krasser Fagus glauca Phil. – Although sometimes included in N. obliqua, this is a very distinct species, differing most noticeably in its papery bark and in its shortly stalked leaves truncate or slightly cordate at the base, glaucous beneath. There are also important differences in flower- and fruit-characters. It is known in Chile as ‘roblé del Maule’, and still dominates in the forest that stretches some way northward along the coast from the port of Constitucion, at the mouth of the river Maule. It was once the basis of a flourishing shipbuilding industry, and it is said that small craft made from its timber are still in use in Polynesia.
N. leonii Espinosa is believed to be a natural hybrid between N. glauca and N. obliqua (Van Steenis, op. cit., p. 336).
N. alessandrii Espinosa Ruil. – This Chilean species is very rare and local in the wild state, and is not closely allied to any other southern beech. Leaves deciduous, ovate, 21⁄4 to 51⁄4 in. long, 13⁄8 to 3 in. or slightly more wide, with eleven to thirteen pairs of parallel veins, each vein running unbranched to a small, sharpish tooth. The best known stand of this remarkable species is near the village of Empedrado, a few miles inland from Constitucion (see above), and south of the river Maule. According to Van Steenis it is the most primitive of living species of Nothofagus in having seven fruits in each involucre. Judging from the small tree planted by the parish priest outside the church at Empedrado, it is certainly distinct from all the cultivated species in its foliage. It is figured in C. Muñoz, Sinopsis de la Flora Chilena, t. XCIV.
specimens: Kew, west of Azalea Garden, from Elwes introduction of 1902, 82 × 7 ft and 75 × 61⁄4 ft (1978), and two others in the same area, pl. 1911, one 86 × 61⁄2 ft (1978); Sunningdale Nurseries, Berks., pl. 1917 (not 1905 as stated, and from the Balfour, not Elwes introduction) 75 × 103⁄4 ft and 64 × 73⁄4 ft (1975); Grayswood Hill, Haslemere, Surrey, 80 × 91⁄4 ft (1982); Nymans, Sussex, from Comber introduction, in Magnolia Garden, 70 × 61⁄4 ft (1977) and, in Wilderness, one of several, 92 × 7 ft (1979); Borde Hill, Sussex, in Little Bentley Wood, 105 × 7 ft (1984); Leonardslee, Sussex, Pinetum, 84 × 5 ft (1984); Sheffield Park, Sussex, 82 × 7 ft (1984); South Lodge, near Horsham, Sussex, 118 × 8 ft (1985); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in West Wood, 76 × 7 ft (1973); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1930, 75 × 4 ft, 85 × 31⁄2 ft and 60 × 41⁄2 ft (1977); The Grange, Benenden, Kent, pl. 1920, 85 × 61⁄2 ft (1985); Sandling Park, Kent, pl. 1936, 92 × 43⁄4 ft (1984); East Bergholt Place, Suffolk, 62 × 5 ft (1972); Heathfield, Dereham, Norfolk, pl. 1925, 81 × 81⁄4 ft (1982); Westonbirt, Glos., Silkwood (Balfour introduction), pl. 1922, 62 × 61⁄2 ft (1978); Killerton, Devon, 66 × 8 ft (1980); Cockington Court, Devon, 98 × 7 ft (1984); Trewithen, Cornwall, 82 × 9 ft (1985); Muncaster Castle, Cumb., pl. 1925, 115 × 53⁄4 ft, 115 × 53⁄4 ft and 108 × 53⁄4 ft (1984); Bulkeley Mill, Gwyn., 85 × 9 ft (1984); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, 88 × 73⁄4 ft (1985); Benmore, Argyll, 85 × 73⁄4 ft, 92 × 63⁄4 ft and 95 × 61⁄4 ft (1983); Blairquahan, Argyll, pl. 1923, 85 × 73⁄4 ft (1984); Glendoick, Perths., pl. 1922, 60 × 61⁄2 ft (1970); National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Eire, 75 × 7 ft (1980); Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow, Eire, broken, 62 × 71⁄2 ft (1975); Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Eire, pl. 1934, 81 × 5 ft (1985).
N. obliqua × N. procera – This hybrid was noted by a nursery worker in a bed of seedlings raised from a plot of N. procera in the National Pinetum at Bedgebury, situated near a plot of N. obliqua. Planted in 1963, two trees at Wetonbirt measure 56 × 31⁄2 ft and 66 × 41⁄4 ft (1983) and a third, at the Forest Research Station, Alice Holt, 46 × 41⁄2 ft (1984).
The two species mentioned under N. obliqua, and the hybrid N. × leonii, are now in cultivation from seed received from Chile in 1976.
For the following information on the plants grown by the Forestry Commission we are indebted to Mr Mark Potter, Silviculturist at the Forest Research Station, Alice Holt, near Farnham, Surrey. The specimens there were planted in 1979, and the new introductions were also included in the forest-based Minor Species trials elsewhere in Britain, established in 1981.
N. glauca – There are two examples at Alice Holt but these have died back recently to about one metre (1986). There have been substantial losses elsewhere, the best survival rate on F.C. plantings being in the Quantock trials, with a mean height of 1.36 metres when last assessed in autumn 1985.
N. × leonii – It is now accepted that this is a natural hybrid between N. glauca and N. obliqua, so it is not surprising that it is growing well. Both trees at Alice Holt are vigorous, the taller being over 5 metres high (1986). The survival rate has also been good in the Forestry Commission trials in Somerset and Devon.
N. alessandrii – This distinct and very ornamental species is certainly tender, and plants from the 1976 introduction in at least two collections (Hampshire and Devon) are dead. At Alice Holt, however, one of two trees has survived and is looking healthy; it is about 4 metres high. In other F.C. trials it has been a failure except in the Quantock plantings, where three-quarters were alive in autumn 1985, with a mean height of 2.5 metres.