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Plant of the Week

Gardening

June 17, 1989|LINDA FRENCH

Pittosporum phillyraeoides Willow pittosporum

Small evergreen tree with weeping form and fine texture

The willow pittosporum is an odd sort of pittosporum, different from, and rarer than, the more familiar pittosporums: Victorian box, Queensland pittosporum, P. tobira , P. crassifolium . The word pittosporum means "sticky seeds," which happen to be one of the genus' characteristics: conspicuous yellow-orange berries.

What makes Pittosporum phillyraeoides different is that it looks more like a weeping willow tree than it does a pittosporum. The great advantage of the willow pittosporum is that the graceful weeping willow look can be achieved with a tree that does not need much water, unlike willows, which are notorious for their thirstiness.

At the Huntington Botanical Gardens, a beautiful willow pittosporum springs up almost fountain-like over a hedge that runs along a road. Three-inch-long, narrow, pointed, olive-green leaves twist from the long weeping branches, creating an overall lacy effect.

In the late winter and early spring, small bell-shaped, creamy-yellow flowers bloom. Rather than being clustered at the ends of the branches, the showy, fragrant flowers run along the length interspersed between the leaves. In the fall, waxy-looking yellow-orange berries weigh down the branches. Later, they split open to reveal shiny red chambers from which the seeds emerge.

Willow pittosporums grow 15 to 20 feet tall and about 10 to 15 feet wide. Because they are so small, they cannot be depended on for shade. The tree is often planted as a specimen tree (alone, not among other plantings) near pools and around patios and is recommended by some as a street tree.

Native to Australia, its needs conform to those of plants from that region. It prefers a light, well-drained soil, but will tolerate poor soils. Once it is established, it also will take drought. It withstands the extreme heat of inland areas and protected desert areas and is frost tolerant to 20 degrees. It also does well near the coast.

If it is not available locally, ask your nursery to order willow pittosporum in 5- or 15-gallon cans from San Marcos Growers, Santa Barbara.

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