This article was published in the Titirangi Tatler, May 2010.
Plant names generally conjure up sweetly-smelling, beautifully showy blossoms en masse or sensational single blooms. Think of the recent exhibits at the Auckland Museum of roses and orchids, or the first indicators of spring such as cherry blossom and daffodils. Apart from kowhai and pohutukawa, New Zealand's plants generally do not have the same connotations of great beauty.
Pity those plants that have to persevere with undistinguished flowers and worse, a name that (wrongly) suggests they are repulsive. Coprosma means 'dung smelling' and relates to one of the first specimens collected in Queen Charlotte Sound by the Forsters, the father and son team who accompanied Captain Cook in 1776. But that was a different species named Coprosma foetidissima that lives up to its name meaning a bad, bad smell.
Most other Coprosmas have no noticeable scent, good or bad. In fact they mostly have minute little flowers that lack scent, petals, or any endearing feature to attract the human nose or eye. Even the dark purple fruit are less than half a centimetre in diameter and quite cryptic and erratic in setting from year to year.
So why would I want to persuade you to grow one? Well, I suggest any garden would be enhanced, not by just one, but a grove of these delightful shrubs. Growing to perhaps four metres tall, they have an erect, columnar habit and when clumped as a group provide a living sculpture in a unique greenish-bronze tone that instantly identifies it as Coprosma areolata. Take a walk in the Waitakere Ranges and you will surely find it in the bush near you.
Low maintenance is always a good selling point and while Coprosma areolata responds well to trimming or topiary, it will usually retain an interesting and sculptured shape without any effort from you at all. They grow well in sun or shade and although they prefer a rich and well-drained soil, they will grow in most conditions. Give them a small annual dose of sheep pellets or slow-release fertiliser and they will be happy.