A deciduous shrub or subshrub up to 12 in. high; young shoots purplish, slender, often with a line of down extending upwards from the axil of each leaf. Leaves ovate-lanceolate to lanceolate, pointed, tapered at the base, coarsely saw-toothed, 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. long, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. wide, dark green above, paler below, glabrous; stalk 1⁄12 to 1⁄4 in. long. Racemes slender, erect, 3 to 9 in. high, produced in late summer from leaf-axils at the upper part of the shoots. Flowers white with rosy-purple lines, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. wide; flower-stalks downy, the individual ones about 1⁄4 in. long, very slender.
Native of New Zealand. This is a variable species and specimens with stems 2 ft long and leaves 4 in. long are included under it. The form described above and cultivated at Kew is the same as Forster’s type on which he based the name in 1786. On some wild plants the leaves are linear-lanceolate, six or seven times as long as wide. Such plants were given specific rank by Bentham as V. lanceolata, but they are part of the variation of this species. In the plants that the younger Hooker named V. diffusa the habit was decumbent and diffuse, the racemes glandular and the leaves ovate and acute, but Miss Ashwin has pointed out that this shape of leaf is not always associated with the other characters of Hooker’s species (Fl. N.Z., Vol. 1 (1961), p. 879).
At the present time P. catarractae appears to be mainly represented in cultivation by a hardy form resembling the one described above from a Kew plant, but usually offered as “Hebe lyallii”. There is also in commerce a form listed by Messrs Ingwersen as Hebe catarractae ‘Of Gardens’, which differs from wild plants in having flowers of a deep purplish blue.
Parahebe catarractae flowers from late summer into early autumn.
P. lyallii (Hook, f.) W. R. B. Oliver Veronica lyallii Hook, f.; Hebe lyallii (Hook. f.) Allan – This is a near relative of the above but smaller in all its parts. It is of prostrate habit, the branches taking root in the ground. Young shoots with usually two lines of down as in P. catarractae. Leaves thick and leathery, ovate to orbicular, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long, with a few coarse teeth on each margin. Flowers white, veined with rose, 1⁄3 in. wide, produced in late summer and autumn on erect racemes 2 to 6 in. high; anthers blue. Native of the South Island of New Zealand up to 4,500 ft. It is hardy.
Although there has been confusion between them, P. lyallii and P. catarractae are, for the most part, clearly distinguishable. In the former the leaves are obtuse to rounded at the apex, and the teeth are rather wide and blunt. In P. catarractae the leaves are acute and sharply serrated, and are also generally much larger than in P. lyallii. In the wild, plants occur in some areas which are intermediate, but so far as is known these have not been introduced to cultivation.