Griselinia littoralis is most renowned for its striking foliage and its salt-tolerant versatility. Whether planted as a specimen shrub; trimmed into a dense, bushy and manageable hedge or left to grow into a tree, its glossy apple-green leaves shine through…
The genus Griselinia has just seven species. Five are native to South America and two to New Zealand – Griselinia lucida is more at home on the North Island while Griselinia littoralis prefers the coastal climate of the South Island. Griselinia Lucida was collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Cook’s 1769 New Zealand expedition but it was nearly a century later (1850) before Griselinia littoralis was brought to the UK. It was first cultivated here in 1872.
And like so many botanical immigrants that happily settle here, its origins are quickly ignored and soon forgotten. Few English gardeners, therefore, will be aware of the plant’s Maori heritage and its plethora of native names: pāpāuma, paraparauma, māihīhi, tapatapauma, kawariki and poukata, among others. Its Latin name is far less poetic – Littoralis means shore growing and Griselinia honours the Venetian natural historian Francesco Griselini (1717-1783).
This hedging plant clearly made – and continues to make – as much of an impression in its native country as it does in ours. Its berries are a well-documented favourite food of the native Koko, or Parson, bird (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), considered by the Maori to be semi-divine – a connection that links Griselinia littoralis to Maori folklore and myth. And back in 1989, a museum tested a Maori Waka huia (a hand-crafted container in which treasured personal possessions are kept) and found it to have been carved from Griselinia littoralis wood.
In the end, though, any plant stands or falls by its appeal to gardeners and its suitability for their garden. Griselinia littoralis is therefore not only a deserved favourite of English coastal gardeners but of inland horticulturists too.