A graceful habit, lots of fragrant flowers and attractive foliage are the key facets of this genus, writes Miranda Kimberley.

H. populnea - image: Flickr/Eric Hunt
H. populnea - image: Flickr/Eric Hunt

There are around 400,000 species of plant in the world right now — an incredible number. However, when it comes to cultivated plants it seems as though you hear certain genus names over and over again. Hoheria is not one of them. 

It is a little-known genus of New Zealand natives that are perhaps not widely grown because they are seen as not very hardy — the evergreen forms especially need a mild, sheltered location.

There are five species, all shrubs or small trees in the mallow family (Malvaceae). Some are deciduous (H. lyallii Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and H. glabrata), some evergreen (H. sexstylosa) and some semi-evergreen. The deciduous types are hardier than the evergreens, coping down to -15°C. H. populnea is much more tender, only tolerating down to -5°C. 

They are best grown in a maritime climate. The warm, wet conditions of the western coast are ideal. But actually with a sheltered position they are worth trying now in other areas, especially as we are seeing fewer hard frosts in the winter.

This genus has a lot to offer. They have an open and graceful habit; produce masses of fragrant white flowers in mid to late summer; boast interesting bark, earning the common name "lacebark" or "ribbonwood"; and have attractive foliage. When young, the leaves are small, deeply toothed and lobed. As they age they are replaced by larger leaves without lobes, though they retain serrated margins. 

The juvenile foliage of the evergreen types also displays an attractive metallic sheen. The flowers are papery white, giving off a honey scent, with prominent stamens. Plants produce more and more flowers as they mature.

The most commonly grown species is the fabulous-sounding evergreen H. sexstylosa. The name refers to the fact the flower has six styles. H. sexstylosa ‘Stardust’ AGM has a compact, free-flowering form with narrow glossy leaves. The semi-evergreen H. ‘Glory of Amlwch’ AGM also stands out for having large white flowers.

Because they are not the hardiest of plants, they are best planted in a sheltered location, ideally against a sunny wall or fence. It is wise to heavily mulch around the more tender evergreen species ahead of the winter. 

Plant them into well-drained, humus-rich and moderately fertile soil. In overly rich soils they may produce soft growth, which is more prone to frost damage. They are even tolerant of alkaline soils.

If they do get badly frost damaged the deciduous species at least will regenerate freely from lower down. Prune the deadwood off the deciduous species in the spring and also remove weak and overcrowded wood down to the base. Prune the evergreen species mainly to keep them in the space allowed. 

In practice

Ian Garland, owner, Grangehill Landscapes, London
"Hoheria is not a well-known plant but it’s a shame because they are very attractive shrubs and trees that bear masses of white flowers, flowering even more as they mature. We can get away with less-hardy plants here in London, especially in central areas, so I can’t vouch for how they will grow in more northern regions, but here they will thrive in a sheltered garden, especially when planted against a wall or fence.

"Flowering in July and August, they can provide really lovely interest with their plentiful white flowers when not many other shrubs are flowering. Generally they are planted as single specimens, but you could plant a small group as part of a woodland. The effect of the flowers en masse would be very striking."

What the specialists say

Peter Chapman, managing director, Perryhill Nurseries, East Sussex
"Hoheria are a relatively small group of large shrubs to small trees, some deciduous, some semi-evergreen and some fully evergreen, especially in a sheltered sunny site. Even the evergreen species will drop some of their leaves if we have a really cold spell as they are often considered slightly tender. They are not fussy as to soil, thriving in acid or alkaline and revelling in a sunny site. 
"I feel they are not as widely grown as they deserve. This lack of popularity may be that they are flowering when footfall in nurseries and garden centres is quite low, but along with Eucryphia they are summer-flowering when few other trees are, so are very useful. 

"H. sexstylosa, mostly evergreen, and its compact, freer flowering sport ‘Stardust’ are the most popular, though ‘Glory of Amlwch’, a hybrid with H. glabrata, has large longer leaves and larger flowers, and is worth searching out." 

Species and varieties

H. angustifolia is an elegant, evergreen small tree of columnar habit with abundant small twigs bearing small, leathery leaves. Juvenile plants are dense and bushy with slender, interlacing branches and tiny, shallowly toothed leaves. Small creamy-white flowers are produced in abundance in July. Height: 10m.
H. angustifolia ‘Borde Hill’ is an evergreen shrub or small tree that produces masses of small white flowers in July. Young plants have small, dark-green, slightly toothed leaves. More mature plants have longer, more rounded leaves. Height: 5-6m. Spread: 1.5-3m.

H. glabrata
, the mountain ribbonwood, is a magnificent large deciduous shrub or small tree. In June and July the weight of the numerous, fragrant, almost translucent flowers pulls down the branches. Height: 10m.

H. ‘Glory of Amlwch’ AGM (H4) is a large semi-evergreen shrub of spreading habit with long, narrow, glossy leaves and clusters of white flowers from midsummer. A hybrid of H. glabrata and H. sexstylosa. Height: 4-8m. Spread: 2.5-4m.

H. lyallii AGM (H4), the lacebark, is a beautiful large deciduous shrub or small tree with broadly ovate, softly hairy grey-green leaves and slightly fragrant white flowers that are borne in clusters in July — later than H. glabrata. Height: 6-7m.

H. populnea, also known as the New Zealand lacebark, is a beautiful large evergreen shrub or small tree. It has broadly ovate leaves and produces dense clusters of pure-white flowers in late summer and autumn. It has pale brown and white bark when mature. Height: 12m. Spread: 10m.

H. sexstylosa is a lovely tall and vigorous evergreen shrub or small tree. It features mid-green leaves that are variable in shape and produces dense clusters of pure-white fragrant flowers in July and August. It can be distinguished from H. populnea by its greater hardiness, more upright growth and narrower adult leaves. Height: 8m. Spread: 6m.
H. sexstylosa ‘Stardust’ AGM (H4) is a large evergreen shrub with narrowly ovate, jaggedly toothed dark-green leaves and clusters of small fragrant white flowers in late summertime. Height 3-5m. Spread: 1.5-2.5m.

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