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Coprosma rhamnoides
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This article was published in The Fringe, July 2014

Twiggy Coprosma

There is variation amongst this species from North to South and botanists recognised it when naming forms such as Coprosma polymorpha and Coprosma heterophylla.

You don't need much Latin knowledge to know the species names mean 'many forms' and 'different leaf shapes'.

Now we call them all Coprosma rhamnoides.

In the Waitakere forest there are not many woody shrubs that only grow to just over a metre tall. One of those, and perhaps the most common, is Coprosma rhamnoides. True, it is sometimes found growing up to 2m, but then it is probably an erect hybrid form. Generally it does not exceed much over one metre and develops a weeping habit with entangled twiggy branches. This is a distinctive and attractive form which is enhanced further by the translucent, dark red or even black fruit. This is one of our hardiest plants and in the past it often withstood the onslaught of forest clearance, followed by fire, the development of pasture and the grazing of stock. Having survived these pressures, the wiry little 'twiggy Coprosma' plants protect themselves by developing tough almost spiny shoots that repel grazing animals and allow the plants to grow a few leaves and even flower and fruit, all tucked inside their own protective environment.

Rough pasture on steep hillsides throughout the country has gatherings of these remarkable survivors, assembled as though at a Coprosma convention to discuss the ravages man and his stock have caused to their environment.

Where already established, Coprosma rhamnoides can lead the revegetation process of pasture reverting to bush. The myriad bright berries attract birds which in turn introduce seeds of other species and the process of restoration is enhanced. Even wind-blown seed is trapped by the dense thickets of 'twiggy Coprosma' and it germinates in the protective shelter of this invincible little shrub.

In the home garden the plant's structured architecture with drooping tips, opposite pairs of diminutive round leaves and heavy flowering make for an ideal, small specimen plant. But remember, if you want the massed effect of hundreds of red/black berries you will need to plant several to improve your chances of getting both male and female plants.

In researching this article I found that very little has been written about 'twiggy Coprosma' and even the one reference to a common name for it is not ideal. Yes, it is twiggy, but so are about 40 of the 50 or so other Coprosma species.

So the challenge to you, dear readers, is to think of an appropriate common name for this common but poorly named shrub. Just contact the nursery by email at before July 8 (in time for our next deadline) and we will advise the winner to collect the prize of 5 Coprosma rhamnoides plants. Let's see if we can get that name into common usage.






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