A shrub 12 to 15 ft high with green, glabrous branchlets. Leaves lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, 2 to 6 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. wide, narrowed at the apex into a long acuminate tip, narrowed at the base into a short, broad petiole (leaf-buds with a distinct sinus), rather thin, glabrous except for minute down on the midrib. Racemes slenderly cylindrical, 4 to 6, sometimes almost 10 in. long, 3⁄4 in. wide, very thickly crowded with blossom; peduncle 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers small, 1⁄4 in. long, shortly stalked, white or white tinged with lilac; corolla-tube rather wide, not much longer than the calyx; corolla-lobes narrow, not spreading; calyx-lobes narrow, pointed, fringed with down. Seed-capsules rounded, glabrous, less than twice as long as the calyx, pointing backward towards the base of the raceme when ripe.
Native of the South Island of New Zealand, where it ranges from sea-level to subalpine elevations, and of south Chile, where it appears to be confined to the coast; discovered at Dusky Bay, Fiordland, New Zealand, during Cook’s second voyage. As now represented in cultivation, and as now defined, H. salicifolia is quite hardy, but Cheeseman included in H. salicifolia as varieties the tender H. gigantea and also H. stricta. This latter species (q.v.) is in the main confined to North Island and might well have tender forms. The distinguishing characters of H. salicifolia are the long, lanceolate leaves acuminately tapered at the apex and abruptly narrowed at the base to a short petiole (leaf-buds with distinct sinus) and the backward-pointing seed-capsules.
H. × amabilis (Chcesem.) Ckn. & Allan V, amabilis Cheesem.; V. salicifolia var. gracilis Kirk – This hybrid is believed to be H. elliptica × H. salicifolia. The type was collected near The Bluff, south of Invercargill in Otago province, and is well figured in Kirk’s Forest Flora of New Zealand, t. 120. A shrub 6 to 15 ft high. Leaves oblong-elliptic or elliptic-lanceolate, 2 to 4 in. long, 3⁄4 to I in. wide, glabrous, flowers white, large, 3⁄8 in. across at the mouth, with a short broad tube not much longer than the calyx. Capsules about twice as long as calyx. This very robust form of the cross was likened by Kirk to H. macrocarpa but that species has the leaf-buds without sinus, whereas the sinus would be well marked in any cross between H. salicifolia and H. elliptica. And in H. macrocarpa (q.v.) the capsules are very large.
Cheeseman also described H. × amabilis var. blanda (H. × blanda (Cheesem.) Pennell) which is of the same parentage and is perhaps commoner than the typical form in New Zealand; it also occurs in Chile. According to Cheeseman the variety has smaller leaves, up to 21⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide, more closely set, and shorter, relatively broad racemes. Flowers white, 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. across.
H. × kirkii (J. B. Armstr.) Ckn. & Allan V. kirkii J. B. Armstr.; V. salicifolia var. kirkii (J. B. Armstr.) Cheesem. – A tall shrub with polished dark brown young stems. Leaves lanceolate, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, 3⁄8 in. wide, acute, sessile on a broad base (leaf-bud without sinus), midrib prominent beneath. Flowers white in slender racemes 4 to 8 in. long; pedicels short; bracts lanceolate. Calyx-lobes acuminate. Tube of corolla about 1⁄5 in. long. Capsules downy or glabrous. A probable hybrid between H. salicifolia and H. rakaiensis described from a colony discovered in the Upper Rangitata in 1868 and introduced to Britain soon after.
H. × lewisii (J. B. Armstr.) Ckn. & Allan V. lewisii J. B. Armstr. – This probable hybrid was described by Armstrong from specimens collected on dunes near the sea in Canterbury province, some near Timaru. It is a densely branched shrub to 6 ft high with downy stems. Leaves pale green, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 1 in. wide, oblong or elliptic-oblong, obtuse to acute at the apex, distinctly ciliate. Flowers, according to Armstrong, white, pale purple or blue and up to 1⁄2 in. wide across the limb. They are densely arranged in racemes up to 21⁄2 in. long and 11⁄2 in. wide.
Armstrong thought this hebe was H. elliptica × speciosa, but the latter species does not extend nearly so far south as Canterbury province, and in Flora of New Zealand it is suggested that the hybrid is of the same parentage as H. × amabilis. If this is the case, H. × lewisii would be the correct name for the cross H. elliptica × salicifolia.
H. × lewisii has certainly been in cultivation in Cornwall and might still be found there or in other west coast gardens.