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Tree to 10 m, but shrubby when young with intertwining divaricate flexible branches. Trunk slender, bark grey. Branchlets pubescent. Juvenile leaves widely spaced and alternate, or fascicled, 0.7–1.5 5–10 mm, more or less obovate, base cuneate, somewhat lobed or toothed towards apex; petioles short, slender, pubescent. Adult leaves opposite to alternate or whorled, oblong to obovate-oblong, (2–)5–10 1–4 cm, coriaceous, margins sinuate or irregularly coarsely crenate-dentate or lobed or occasionally entire; petioles to 1 cm, slender. Inflorescence a terminal panicle, 4–8 cm long, with pubescent branches. Flowers small, unisexual, fragrant; petals five, white; male flowers with filaments exceeding petals, anthers large, female flowers with filaments shorter than the petals, and anthers smaller; ovary oblong, stigma three-lobed. Fruit 8–9 mm, black. Flowering in summer, fruiting in autumn (New Zealand). Allan 1961, Salmon 1996. Distribution NEW ZEALAND: North Is., South Is. (from 35 °S). Habitat Woodland and thickets. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Salmon 1996; NT548.
Pennantia corymbosa is greatly appreciated in New Zealand as an ornamental native plant, and is recommended for many landscaping situations. When mature it has attractive white flowers followed by black fruits, but it is in the juvenile stage that it is perhaps most interesting. As with several New Zealand trees and shrubs it has a very strange divaricate branching pattern when young. (The ‘wirenetting bush’ Corokia cotoneaster Raoul is the most familiar example of this in horticulture; Elaeocarpus hookerianus and Carpodetus serratus are others described in this book.) The pattern is retained until the tree is 2.5–3 m tall, when it turns into a ‘normal’ broadleaved, round-crowned tree, which is fertile. One theory is that this is a way of optimising light capture (Day 1998), but others would suggest that it was a response to moa-browsing (see the account for Elaeocarpus hookerianus). Outside New Zealand P. corymbosa is very rare, although it is commercially available in the United Kingdom. It is grown at Logan Botanic Garden as a 1990 accession from Howick & Darby 1168, collected on South Island, and has reached 1.5 m there, ‘doing well enough’ (B. Unwin, pers. comm. 2006). At Tregrehan a 2002 accession has so far reached 1.5 m also, suggesting a preference for somewhat warmer conditions.