A few years back when I was visiting my sister in Wilmington, NC., I spotted an unusual looking plant. I could tell it was some sort of tree or shrub but what I found interesting was the way in which it grew. Rather than growing from a single trunk, it grew more like a multi-stemmed bush. The nearly flesh-like leaves were bright, glossy green. Of course at the time, I had no idea what it was but figured it must be fairly hardy to withstand the strong beach winds and salt sprays, not to mention the scorching sun. So I did some research.
After scouring through my library of garden books, as well as the Web, I soon discovered the name of this newfound treasure-Griselinia. This genus of hardy evergreen shrubs has about seven different species. They are native to both New Zealand (two species – G.littoralis and G. lucida) and South America (G. jodinifolia, G. carlomuozii, G. scandens, G. racemosa, and G. rusifolia). This attractive shrub can actually grow in a variety of climates, including here in Zones 7-8, though it seems to thrive in coastal regions best. Griselinia shrubs can grow in various soil types and conditions, making them rather versatile as well as interesting. They are tolerant of light frost and windy conditions and are unaffected by salt sprays near the coast. However, they don’t perform too well in areas prone to excessive drought.
Growing Griselinia in the landscape or garden is said to be quite easy, even for beginners. They will grow happily in fertile soil with plenty of room and sunlight. They are easy to care for as well, needing regular water and occasional pruning only. The shrubs have many uses-as a hedge or privacy screen and for a windbreak or erosion control. They’re tiny, green colored flowers are also good for attracting pollinators to the area. Since Griselinia shrubs are vigorous growers and long lasting once established, you’ll need to place them somewhere permanent with plenty of room for growth. These plants do not take well to transplanting and, in fact, may not withstand the move. However, if all the roots are not thoroughly removed, the shrub has a tendency to keep coming back.
Depending on the variety grown, the shrubs may form dense bushes up to ten feet or more. Therefore, yearly pruning of about 12-24 inches is recommended to keep them well maintained and under control. Otherwise, they may become overgrown and difficult to manage. Female Griselinia shrubs will produce small purplish-black berries in the fall. These berries are edible, though considered to be quite bitter tasting. The berries can also be harvested and sown to create new plants, if desired. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken as well for the propagation of additional shrubs.
Sources: personal experience
Trees & Shrubs of New Zealand, 1990
A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man
Variegated trees & shrubs: the illustrated encyclopedia