A dense-habited, much-branched evergreen shrub of rounded form, 6 to 12 ft high, often more in diameter, and furnished to the ground; young shoots smooth, or slightly hairy. Leaves not toothed, narrowly ovate, approaching oblong, tapered at both ends, 11⁄2 to 4 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide, dark glossy green above, paler beneath, and with tufts of down in the lower vein-axils; stalk 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, often more or less hairy. Flowers white, about 1⁄4 in. across, uniform and perfect, produced in winter and spring in terminal cymes 2 to 4 in. across. Fruits ovoid, tapering towards the top, 1⁄4 in. long, deep blue, finally black.
Native of S. Europe, mainly in the Mediterranean region, and of N. Africa, occurring in the more luxuriant type of macchia vegetation with bay laurel, myrtle, phillyrea, Rhamnus alaternus, etc., or as undergrowth in woodland. It has been cultivated in Britain since the 16th century. In southern gardens the laurustinus is one of the most useful of evergreen shrubs, forming rich masses of greenery and opening its flowers any time between November and April, according to the weather. It will thrive in moderate shade, but flowers more freely in full sun. The fruits, indigo-blue, ultimately black, are not frequently seen with us, though often enough for it to escape from gardens in some places. From all other cultivated hardy viburnums this is distinguished by its luxuriant masses of entire, evergreen leaves.
V. tinus is a very variable species in the size and shape of its leaves, in the presence or absence of hairs from the young growths, petioles and the undersides and margins of the leaves, as well as in the size and density of the inflorescence. But the variations do not seem to be well correlated on wild plants, which may explain why in recent times botanists have not troubled to inventorise all the character-combinations that occur. However, forms with large leaves and inflorescences appear to be commonest in N. Africa. Some are very striking, judging from herbarium specimens, and seem to be really nearer to V. rigidum of the Canary Islands or the Azores subspecies of V. tinus than to V. tinus as it exists on the northern shores of the Mediterranean or in the Adriatic. No doubt there are also physiological variations, some races being adapted to the Mediterranean type of climate, others needing moister conditions and perhaps nearer to V. tinus as it existed in earlier epochs, when the climate of the Mediterranean region was rainier than it has been since the Ice Age.
Many forms of V. tinus have been selected in gardens, of which the following are the most important:
cv. ‘Clyne Castle’. – A hardy selection with large glossy leaves.
cv. ‘Eve Price’. – Of compact habit, with smaller leaves than normal. Flowers bright pink in the bud. Award of Merit 1961. The original plant grows at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, and was bought by Gerald Loder from Messrs Dickson of Chester.
cv. ‘French White’. – A vigorous form, often sold for hedging as V. tinus simply. Young stems hairy; leaves moderately glossy. Flowers white when fully open.
cv. ‘Gwenllian’. – Leaves dull green, elliptic-oblong, shorter than in most forms of the species. Flowers in small but very numerous trusses, rich pink in the bud, blush when expanded. Fruits freely borne. The original plant of this very attractive viburnum grows at Kew, where it was selected and named by the late Sydney Pearce. It is about 10 ft high and 15 ft wide.
f. hirtum Hort. – Shoots, leaf-stalks and bases of the leaves clothed with bristly hairs. Leaves larger than normal and of a different shape, being as much as 3 to 4 in. long and 2 in. wide, rounded or even slightly heart-shaped at the base, and once grown for early flowering in cool greenhouses. The provenance of this form, described in previous editions, is unknown, but a similar plant received an Award of Merit when shown from Highdown in 1939; this was raised from seeds collected by E. A. Bowles in Algeria.
The laurustinus grown in gardens early in the 19th century as var. hirtum, which was probably the var. hirtum of Aiton and the var. hirsutum of Weston, had hairy foliage but the leaves were of normal size and it was hardy.
cv. ‘Lucidum’. – In habit this is more open, and less compact than the type, and altogether a stronger grower. It also bears larger leaves and trusses, and the individual flower is nearly 1⁄2 in. across, sometimes pinkish. The largest leaves are 4 in. long, and 21⁄2 in. wide. Very useful and effective in the milder counties, it is not so hardy as the type. The varietal name refers to the glabrous, burnished young shoots, and to the glossy surfaces of the leaf, the lower one with only a few tufts of hairs in the vein-axils. (V. lucidum Mill.; V. tinus var. lucidum (Mill.) Ait.; V. tinus splendens West.).
Whether or not the plant described above is clonally the same as the one known to Miller it is impossible to say, but everything that Miller said about his plant agrees with the above. The origin of neither is known, but Martyn, in his edition of Miller’s Dictionary (1807) gives ‘Mount Atlas and Barbary’ as the habitat of var. lucidum. It is likely, however, that there are several clones or seedlings in gardens. The plant that received an Award of Merit in 1972 was shown by Miss Godman from her garden at South Lodge near Horsham. In this the flowers are almost 1⁄2 in. across.
A clone in commerce as ‘Lucidum’ has leaves no more than 2 in. long on the flowering shoots, though to almost twice that length on strong growths. Correctly named or not, it is one of the finest and hardiest of the cultivars, with bright green, very glossy leaves, and one of the last to open its flowers.
cv. ‘Purpureum’. – Leaves dark green, tinged with purple.
cv. ‘Pyramidale’ (‘Strictum’). – Of erect habit, suitable for hedges.
subsp. rigidum (Vent.) P. Silva – See V. rigidum, but the subspecific status for this is probably more appropriate.
subsp. subcordatum (Trel.) P. Silva – Leaves broadly elliptic, truncate to slightly cordate at the base. There is variation in the amount of hairs on the vegetative parts, as in Mediterranean plants. The inflorescence is up to 4 in. wide, rather dense in some plants. Native of the Azores, but forms similar in most respects occur in N. Africa.
cv. ‘Variegatum’. – A portion of the leaf, sometimes all one side, yellow. This is tender.