2016

 
 

There are many trees that are valued simply for their foliage. Blue spruces, Weeping junipers and Golden pines are just a few one could list.  The most useful of these are evergreen because they provide year-round screens and wind breaks in addition to beautiful foliage. Leyland cypress are possibly the most ubiquitous wind break around the world as well as Green Giant Thujas and hollies and yews are the standard for hedges everywhere. There is another choice evergreen however that is highly esteemed by connoisseurs but is almost unknown in the nursery industry. This is not a needled conifer but a broadleaf evergreen that, unfortunately, has considerable confusion in its common name and classification. It is called Machilus, Japanese Bay tree or Japanese Persea. And botanically it is either Persea thunbergii or Machilus thunbergii. Regardless of the name this splendid tree is a member of the Laurel family, Lauraceae, a family famous for fragrant and beautiful foliage. Other, better-known members of this family are the American Red bay, Persea borbonia; the Camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora; and the Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis. 

Machilus is native to eastern Asia where it grows to be a massive tree in excess of 100 feet tall with a full, rounded crown that resembles a Live oak in profile. In garden cultivation however it typically grows 60 to 80 feet tall and 40 to 60 feet wide, which still is quite large. The leaves are stunning. They emerge a bright red in early spring shading copper and  lime green before turning a glossy, dark green by summer and they can grow as long as 6 inches. There are brilliantly chartreuse, star-shaped flowers in spring that contrast well against the foliage. And the flowers lead to attractive deep purple fruits in autumn.  Machilus is as famous for its imposing form as it is for its leaves. The tree grows full and majestic with broad, tiered branches casting a heavy, year-round shade.

This tree grows large in optimum conditions which are warm temperate and sub-tropical climates with high rainfall such as the American South. It would also thrive in southern Australia and New Zealand. However, in areas with cool summers, such as the UK, it is considerably smaller and slower growing yet nonetheless beautiful. Machilus is a lushly, tropical tree suitable for specimen or screening. The only drawback is it's intolerance of severe winters and its lack of availability. This is a connoisseur tree that is rarely available anywhere other than the specialty tree nurseries.

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Machilus

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