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What Is Hoheria?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
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  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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Hoheria is a genus from the Malvaceae family composed of flowering plants that bloom in large quantities in summer or autumn. Endemic to New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands, they are also cultivated in Australia, Great Britain, and the Pacific Northwest. While the scientific name of this genus is the Latin form of its Maori name, Houhere, its common names of ribbonwood and lacebark come from the lace-like pattern formed by the network of fibers on its inner bark. Hoheria plants range from shrubs to small trees that can grow up to 36 feet (11 m) tall. The six species that make up this genus are divided into three groups.

Collectively known as the lacebarks, the first group is composed of H. populnea, H. sexstylosa, and H. equitum. H. populnea is a small tree with a foliage of dark green, glossy, and toothed evergreen leaves. This species is mostly found in the coastal to lowland forests of New Zealand and prefers forest margins and open places. Its name is derived from the six pink styles found in each flower. H. sexstylosa is easily distinguished by the tendency of its lanceolate leaves to droop. Meanwhile, H. equitum has elliptic leaves and smaller glabrescent flowers.

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There is only one member in the second group, named narrow-leaved lacebark. H. angustifolia is a slender tree that can reach a height of up to 33 feet (10 m). Its distinguishing characteristics are its serrated leaves with a pale undersurface and its shallow cup-shaped white flowers. This species grows best in the lowlands of New Zealand along the streams at the lower half of the north island.

The plants in the first two groups have winged fruits, while the fruits of the mountain lacebarks or ribbonwoods have rudimentary wings or none at all. H. glabrata and H. lyalli are further differentiated by their deciduous foliage. Hardier than the evergreens, they can regenerate even when their top growth becomes damaged in the winter. Just like the other plants in the genus Hoheria, the scented and almost translucent white flowers of these two plants bloom in the summer. H. glabrata is found in the western side of the southern Alps, while H. lyalli grows in the drier eastern side of this sub-alpine mountain range.

Traditionally, early Maori and European settlers used Hoheria plants as a source of fiber for cordage, timber for making furniture, and as firewood. These plants are also cultivated for arboricultural and horticultural uses due to their impressive foliage and sweet-scented flowers. They grow best in warm and wet gardens, require little pruning, and can grow in most soils. As Hoheria plants can grow into small trees, one should consider the size of the garden and where it is to be planted first before doing so.

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