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Products > Phylica arborea
Phylica arborea - Island Cape Myrtle
Image of Phylica arborea
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorns)
Origin: South Atlantic (Atlantic Ocean)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Greenish White
Height: 6-8 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: Unknown
Phylica arborea (Island Cape Myrtle) - A shrub or small tree with attractive narrow needle-like dark green leaves that are downy silver on the underside. Greenish-white flowers form on the brach tips. This unusual plant, described as helichrysum-like or yew-like, has and incredibly disjunct distribution on several small islands in the South Atlantic and southern Indian Oceans. In the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, about midway between Australia and South Africa, this plant is found on Amsterdam Island and in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 3,000 miles away, it is found growing on the Tristan da Cunha Island group (considered the most remote archipelago) and nearby Gough Island, 250 miles to the southeast. Our plants came from cuttings from plants grown from seed that was collected by Gary James in March 2002 from the top (just below 1000 feet) on Nightingale Island, a remote small island in the Tristan da Cunha Island group. These islands have a cool temperate climate with little seasonal variation and temperatures averaging between 50 and 60 F. Harsh winds and an average of 65 inches of rain, with snow on the highest peaks also prevail. Phylica arborea, the only "tree" growing on the island, usually is found as a shrub or procumbent plant but older specimens in wind sheltered sports have been noted at 25 feet. To our knowledge this plant has not been grown in cultivation in California and we would only be guessing on how it will perform in garden conditions. Likely it will appreciate full sun and regular irrigation. An interesting account on this plant and the Tristan da Cuhuna archipelago can be found in H.N. Mosely's “Notes By A Naturalist: And Account of Observations made during the Voyage of H.M,S Challenger Round the world in the years 1872-1876” In these notes Mosely, who arrived on Tristan da Cuhuna in October 15, 1873 described the island as having "a scanty covering of green , derived mainly from grasses, sedges mosses, and ferns, with darker patches of the peculiar trees of the island (Phylica arborea) … the only tree occurring in the islands; it is a species found only in the Tristan da Cunha group, in Gough Gough island and in the far off island of Amsterdam, 3,000 miles distant … the foliage of the tree is of a dark glossy green, with the under sides of the narrow almost needle-like leaves white and downy. Hence the tree, which in habit is very like a yew, presents as a whole a mixture of glaucous grey and dark olive-green shades; it bears berries of about the size of sweet peas which are eaten by the finch which lives in the islands. .. The constant heavy gales do not permit the tree to grow erect; the trunk is usually procumbent at its origin for several feet, and then rises again often at a right angle. It is always more or less twisted or gnarled. In sheltered places, as under cliffs or the north-east side of Inaccessible Island, the tree is as high as 25 feet, but it is not nearly so high on the summit of the island, though the trunks are said there to reach a length of 30 feet of more". 

This information about Phylica arborea displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.