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What is Coprosma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Coprosma is a genus of shrubs and small trees native to the islands of the Pacific, found in regions like New Zealand and Hawaii. Several species in this genus are grown as ornamental plants, most commonly in temperate regions similar to their native habitat, although some people grow Coprosma indoors in greenhouses and conservatories. Nurseries sometimes stock these plants or can order them by request, and they are also available through mail order catalogs and exchanges with other gardeners.

Members of this genus vary from creeping groundcovers to small trees. They are typically evergreen, with some cultivars having variegated foliage in colors like cream, pink, and red. The flowers are small and usually not very visible, developing into dark berries in the fall months. Some of the species produce edible fruit; the Maori people in New Zealand have historically used some species as a food source. Edible fruits can be used in the preparation of jams, jellies, fruit drinks, and a variety of other foods.

These plants are not frost hardy. They are adapted to the temperate climates found along coastlines and can be damaged in a cold winter, although a mild frost will not usually kill a Coprosma. People living in cool regions where frosts happen periodically who are interested in growing Coprosma should choose a sheltered area for planting and may want to consider covering their plants on especially cold nights to reduce the risk of frost damage.

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Well-drained, loamy soil worked with some leaf mold or other organic material is recommended for growing Coprosma. In sheltered areas, the plants will develop a more upright growth habit, while in windy areas, they will tend to cling low to the ground. These plants can be used as groundcovers, borders, hedges, or specimen plantings, depending on the landscaping scheme. Species with colorful or variegated foliage can make visually appealing specimen plants. Gardeners may want to be aware that some plants have an unpleasant smell when crushed, as referenced by the genus name, which translates as “smells like feces.”

Many Coprosma species are also very suitable for container gardening. They can be grown in containers outdoors or indoors. For people living in cold climates, plants can be grown indoors during the winter months and moved outdoors for the summer. These plants can also be used in bonsai cultivation. Species with colorful foliage can make particularly striking specimens. For bonsai cultivation, pruning to shape and training with wires is recommended to encourage the plant to develop into a desired shape.

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