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Maytenus boaria (The Maiten Tree)

Another little known treasure from South America. Picture a small evergreen version of a very green and delicate Weeping Willow. For those familiar with sub-tropical flora – a touch of the Pepper Tree (Schinus molle). Unlike many of the trees we grow from South America, this isn’t a forest tree. It needs lots of light and will take plenty of exposure on any old soil. It can reach 10ft in 5 years and could go on to reach 25ft or more. The flowers are tiny, cream and prolific. Even the bark’s nice – it forms a kind of chequer board pattern as the tree matures.

We have a number of them growing successfully at the old nursery near Horsham and have now planted many at the new nursery at Pulborough – all of which are doing well. A lovely fresh green in the middle of winter. The plant tends to sucker – a useful habit if you want more (just dig them up) or if you want a grove of Maiten Trees.

I was unaware of a number of these struggling amongst some huge rhododendrons in the garden at Portmeirion in North Wales until they found the light and went berserk. They must have put on 15ft in height in about three years and now form a fine grove way above the rhododendrons. In San Francisco it’s used as a street tree.

Our original plants were from David Masters, then Head Gardener at Nymans (National Trust Garden) in West Sussex. We dug up suckers from the specimen they had in the garden. Having found a good example of any plant, we’d always try to clone it by taking cuttings but with this plant we failed and failed until the only way to grow it was from seed. Like so many South American plants, Maytenus has a geographical distribution over two thousands miles of latitude (north to south) and within that range (as nearly always happens) there’s a great variation in hardiness and habit. The seedlings we produce therefore vary which – frankly – is not ideal but as it seems our only option and we absolutely love this tree, it’s too bad. We find the seedlings with the finest (smallest and narrowest) leaves are the most elegant and we reject the ones with the larger, wider leaves.

As with many evergreens during cold winter weather, they will sometimes drop their leaves. Sometimes just a few and very rarely, most. This is a clever trick that many evergreens have to deal with drought. Less leaves, less transpiration, less stress. When the ground’s frozen and the tree can’t transpire, it will react in exactly the same way. I can’t transpire, so I’ll lose some leaves and the number of leaves I lose is in direct proportion to the lack of water. Once conditions improve (it rains and/or it warms up), I’ll grow some new leaves and carry on regardless.

As with all rare trees, growing Maytenus in Britain is a bit of a horticultural adventure so guarantees from us of flowering, growth rate and uniformity will be pretty thin on the ground.

Propagated by us from seed.

N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.

As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.

Hardiness traffic light amber

Hardiness level Amber

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Hardy in the Home Counties if sensibly sited (avoiding severe frost pockets, for example). Many Amber Labelled Plants are from cuttings from well-established plants that have survived many harsh winters in the South-East.

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.