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Tree of the week: Peppermint tree

October 18, 2008 |  6:26 am

Oct_8_08_382 Good morning. It's a chilly one in my part of town, finally some football weather. There's a lot of talk lately about a return to simpler times, and things of real, lasting value. You see? It all comes back to trees, and to Pieter Severynen's Tree of the Week.

Australian Willow Myrtle, Peppermint Tree - Agonis flexuosa

The Australian Willow Myrtle is not a willow, even if it looks like a (refined) one. But it is part of the myrtle family; it originated in the Perth area of southwest Australia and the leaves release a delicious peppermint smell when crushed. The tree is a longtime Californian: Stephen Nolan of Belle View Nursery in Oakland first listed it commercially in his 1871 nursery catalog.

A fairly small, handsome and excellent garden tree, the evergreen AWM grows moderately fast to about 25 by 25 feet. Initially the pendulous branches with the zigzagging ends, the hanging leaves, and the reddish-brown, fibrous bark give it a weeping-willow quality. It becomes more beautiful and characteristic with age: each passing year the trunk becomes thicker and more deeply furrowed while the branches start to twist in hairpin turns. Given enough time, the sculptural stem becomes delightfully oversized for its small tree canopy. It is a wonderful fairy-tale tree that deserves wider planting. Narrow willow-like leaves are up to 6 inches long; a fair amount drops on the ground. Without occasional cleaning out of dead leaves the tree may look a little sloppy. In late spring the AWM tree is covered with small white flowers; they are followed by clusters of small fruits. Roots are not invasive, and the tree tolerates a wide variety of soils and moisture conditions, from lawn watering to almost drought, provided drainage is good. The tree loves full sun; below 27 degrees it will suffer frost damage.

"Jarvis Bay Afterdark" is a slightly smaller selection with narrower leaves and eye catching brilliant scarlet new leaf growth in spring that gradually turns to dark burgundy. It was a spontaneous seedling mutation found in 1985 at Jarvis Bay Nurseries in New South Wales. 

Thanks, Pieter

Your thoughts? Comments?

-- Peter Viles

Photo Credit: Pieter Severynen