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Clethra arborea Ait.

Lily-of-the-Valley Tree

Modern name

Clethra arborea Aiton

An evergreen small tree 20 to 25 ft high in Britain; young shoots reddish and at first hairy. Leaves oblanceolate, pointed, finely toothed, tapered towards both ends but more slenderly towards the base; 3 to 6 in. long, 1 to 2 in. wide; dark bright green and glabrous above, pale beneath with a hairy midrib and scattered hairs over the blade; stalk reddish, hairy, 12 to 34 in. long. Flowers fragrant, pure white, 13 in. wide, produced in a terminal panicle made up of about half a dozen slender racemes 3 to 6 in. long, on which the blossoms are gracefully disposed, each on a stalk 14 in. long. The petals are obovate, about 14 in. long, and, being rather erect, give the flower a cupped shape. Calyx five-lobed, downy, the oval lobes 18 in. long; ovary covered with erect, whitish bristles; main and secondary flower-stalks very downy. Bot. Mag., t. 1057.

Native of Madeira, where it is known as the ‘folhado’; introduced in 1784. It occurs wild in the woods and thickets of ravines at from 2,000 to 5,000 ft altitudes. This beautiful tree can only be grown with winter protection at Kew and in most other districts in this country. But it is cultivated in the open air in milder places in the British Isles. At Rossdohan in Co. Kerry, Eire, there is a remarkable specimen 51 ft high and 7 ft in girth at ground-level, and two others measuring 26 × 4 ft and 35 × 312 ft respectively (1966); on Garinish Island this species has reached 30 ft in height. Outside Eire, few examples comparable to these have been recorded in recent years but there is a healthy tree 18 ft high at Brodick in the Isle of Arran, and one of 21 ft at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall. It flowers from August to October, and its beauty is so remarkable that it ought to be grown wherever possible. The flowers bear a superficial resemblance to those of the lily-of-the-valley, hence the popular name.



Other species in the genus