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Botanical Name: Garrya elliptica
Species: G. elliptica
Common Names: Coast silk-tassel, Silk tassel bush or Wavyleaf silktassel
Habitat : Garrya elliptica is native to South-western N. America – California to Oregon. It grows in chaparral and forest on dry slopes and ridges below 600 metres.
Garrya elliptica is an evergreen Shrub growing to 4 m (13ft) by 4 m (13ft) at a medium rate. It has a multi-furcate branching structure yielding an almost spherical form. Like others of its genus, G. elliptica has opposite leaves with a tough leathery feel, glossy green on top, but paler and duller on the underside. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Nov to February.
The dioecious flowers are concentrated in inflorescences which cascade downward as aments of 4–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) in length. While it manifests separate male and female plants, the pendant male catkins are much more showy and are grey-green and up to 30 cm (12 in) long; the female ones are shorter and silver-grey. Although the flowers bloom in late winter and early spring, dried bracts remain on the plant well into summer as light gray decorations. The plant has smooth bark, dark-greenish when young, but roughening with age. New twigs are green and moderately stout.
For pistillate flowers, above each small bract there is a solitary flower inside the inflorescence. This plant produces tiny dark seeds. The ripened purplish black fruit of about 1 cm in diameter has a hard desiccated coating, but is rather fleshy on the interior. In the case of stamenate infloresences, there are a total of four stamens per flower; moreover, above each bract pair there is a triplet of flowers. The cultivar ‘James Roof’ has catkins up to 30 cm (12 in) in length.
The unique characteristics of Garrya elliptica are its waxy convex leaves with wavy leaf margins, coupled with dense individual hairs on the leaf undersides that are scarcely distinguishable with a hand lens. Its leaf blades are six to eight centimeters in length, and has petioles which range in length from six to twelve millimeters. For identification purposes Congdon silk-tassel (Garrya congdonii) is most closely related. Congdon silk-tassel has the same leaf appearance, but leaf hairs are distinguishable with a hand lens and both leaf blades and petioles are about two thirds the size of Coast silk-tassel. Both Fremont silk-tassel (Garrya fremontii) and Ashy silk-tassel (Garrya flavescens) have similar fruit characteristics, but have a flat leaf margin.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.
Prefers a sunny position succeeding in most well-drained fertile soils. Succeeds in a hot dry position. Succeeds in light shade, the plants are also tolerant of quite deep shade. Does not require a rich soil or abundant moisture, if the soil is too fertile the flowering will be delayed. Plants are resistant to urban pollution and maritime exposure, but they are subject to wind scorch from cold drying winds in colder areas. This species is hardy to about -15°c, it is best on a sunny wall in most parts of the country but does very well as a free standing shrub in Devon and Cornwall. In cold winters and springs the previous year’s leaves may fall before the new leaves are produced. A hedge in a relatively open area at Wisley in Surrey is growing well (1991), as is a plant in a friend’s garden in Stockton on Teesside(1998). All pruning should be carried out in spring before new growth starts but after flowering has ended. Plants are strongly resentful of root disturbance, they should be planted into their permanent positions as soon as possible. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Very slow, the seed can take 2 or more years to germinate. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood 10cm with a heel, August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood 10 – 12 cm with a heel, December/January in a frame.
Abortifacient; Antiperiodic; Febrifuge.
The leaves are intensely bitter and are used as an antiperiodic and febrifuge. They can be used as a quinine substitute. An infusion has been used to induce menstruation, probably acting as an abortifacient.
Dye; Hedge; Hedge; Repellent; Wood.
A hedge in a sheltered position at Wisley in 1991 was very healthy. Makes a good wind shelter. Grey to black dyes are obtained from the berries. The colour varies according to the ripeness of the fruit, green fruits are the best. The bark and leaves are very bitter, a possible insect repellent?. Wood – hard, close-grained. It has been used for fine cabinet work, though its small size and rarity limits its commercial usefulness.
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