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Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’
Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’

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Zones vary by species.
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Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees

These plants are valued primarily for their foliage and form, though they also bear clusters of small, bell-shaped, often sweetly fragrant flowers followed by fairly conspicuous fruits the size of large peas. All are basic, dependable plants with pleasing outlines when allowed to branch naturally. Prune periodically to enhance form, thinning out weak branches and wayward shoots. Some make good clipped hedges. Excellent for screens and windbreaks. Susceptible to aphids and scale insects; sooty mold on leaves is a sign of infestation. Ripe fruits (usually orange) split open to reveal sticky seeds; fallen fruit can be a nuisance on lawns and paving.

Pittosporum brevicalyx

Native to China. Grows to 18–20 ft. tall and 16–18 ft. wide. Leathery, glossy dark green leaves have somewhat silvery undersides and reach 4–5 in. long, 1 1/2–2 in. wide. Large clusters of fragrant bright yellow flowers in spring. Produces very little fruit.

Pittosporum crassifolium

From New Zealand. Can reach 25 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide in 8 to 10 years, but yearly pruning easily keeps it to 6–10 ft. tall and 6–8 ft. wide. Branches are densely clothed in gray-green, 1–2-in.-long leaves with rounded ends. Maroon flowers in late spring. Tolerates seaside conditions. ‘Compactum’ grows to 3 ft. or a bit taller, with equal spread.

Pittosporum eugenioides

From New Zealand. Grows to 20–40 ft. tall and 15–30 ft. wide. Often seen as a high hedge or screen plant; unpruned, becomes a tree with a curving gray trunk. Yellow-green to medium green, wavy-edged, lance-shaped, 2–4-in.-long leaves. Fragrant yellow flowers in spring. Set 1 1/2 ft. apart for a hedge; force bushiness by shearing 2–6 in. from tops of plants several times each year between midwinter and early fall. A form with foliage edged in creamy white grows to just 10 ft. tall; it needs partial shade in hottest climates.

Pittosporum phillyreoides

Native to Australia. Slow grower to 12–20 ft. tall and 10–15 ft. wide. This species differs from other pittosporums in both habit and leaf shape; it is a weeping plant with trailing branches and dark green, very narrow leaves to 3 in. long. Blooms in late winter and early spring, bearing very fragrant yellow flowers. Deep yellow fruit follows the blossoms. Always looks best standing alone; its strong structure should not be diminished by competing foliage. Good by a pool or patio. If drainage is poor, water infrequently but very deeply. Tolerates heat and aridity better than other pittosporums and has even naturalized in some desert areas.

Pittosporum rhombifolium

From Australia. Grows slowly to 15–35 ft. tall and 12–25 ft. wide. Rich green, glossy, nearly diamond-shaped leaves to 4 in. long. White flowers in late spring. Growth is open enough to let you see the showy clusters of round, 1 1/2-in., yellow to orange fruits that decorate the plant from fall through winter. As a small tree, is well suited for a lawn or patio (as long as sticky fruit won’t pose a problem). Or plant several as a not-too-dense screen that needs little pruning. Resistant to oak root fungus.

Pittosporum tenuifolium

From New Zealand. Grows to 15–25 ft. tall and 10–15 ft. wide. Similar in form to P. eugenioides but has darker twigs and leafstalks; purple flowers; shorter, more oval, deeper green leaves with less wavy edges; and greater tolerance for seacoast conditions.

Pittosporum tobira
Pittosporum tobira

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Pittosporum tobira

From Japan. Dense, rounded growth to 6–15 ft. (rarely to 30 ft.) tall and wide. You can remove lower limbs from an older plant to make a small tree, or you can hold the plant to 6 ft. by careful heading back and thinning (doesn’t look good sheared). Whorls of leathery, narrowly elliptical, shiny dark green leaves to 5 in. long. Variegated forms are also available. In early spring, creamy white flowers with the fragrance of orange blossoms are borne at branch tips. Seldom flowers in Hawaii. Good for a screen or tall hedge; multistemmed specimen of interesting, irregular form. Very tolerant of seacoast conditions.

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