Pseudowintera colorata, also known as the pepper tree or Mountain Horopito, is an unusual evergreen shrub endemic to New Zealand. An under-rated shrub features attractive cream and pink foliage which in the cool of winter gets its overdue attention.
Not only does the Pseudowintera colorata provide colour when most are subdued, it also holds a place in medicinal history. When crushed the leaves of the Pseudowintera colorata release a chemical which repels unwanted attackers such as insects and fungus. Due to this, Pseudowintera colorata leaves have been used as far back as 1848 by indigenous Maori populations for a number of ailments. When chewed the leaves have a hot peppery taste that was used in teas and poultices. Even to this day Pseudowintera colorata leaf extract is used in a number of commercial anti-fungal products.
Pseudowintera colorata naturally grow on the edge of wet woodland conditions so a site that is sheltered in sun or semi shaded and consistently moist is best. They are frost hardy to minus ten but being in a sheltered position will assist survival in lower temperatures. They will enjoy a a good loamy soil with plenty of organic matter and a generous mulch.
Pseudowintera colorata sits well in a border mixed with exotic plants or exclusively with natives. Plant with Pseudopanax ferox, Nothofagus and ferns or Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’, Hellebores and Astilbes to complement the pink and red hues of the Pseudowintera.
Apparently Pseudowintera colorata is also one of the oldest flowering plants with appearances in the fossil record over 65 million years ago. Which was around the same time the dinosaurs became extinct.
At a Glance:
Shape: Domed shrub
Eventual Height: 2 – 3 metres
Eventual Width: 1 – 2 metres
Time till fully grown: 5 – 10 years (depending on conditions)
Evergreen or Deciduous: Evergreen
Leaf colour spring/summer: Yellow/cream blotched with red
Leaf colour autumn: more intense colours – especially red
Time of Flowers: spring
Fruits: black small berries
Time of Fruits: summer
Edible: leaves have a peppery taste
Amount of sun: full to part shade
Tolerance of wind: Prefers shelter especially whilst young. Can take some wind if moisture is sufficient.
Moisture needed: a good amount but must be well drained.
Soil preference: Most soils with added organic matter (compost) when planting. May struggle on hard clay
Drought resistant: No
Rabbit resistant: unknown but tastes bad to deer and stock.
Benefits for wildlife: Berries are a food source to native birds notably the Kereru. Large shrub size provides shelter and nesting space for birds. Flowers provide food for many insects.