When is a tree not a tree?

There’s a building I often drive past at NE 31st and Killingsworth. I admire the landscaping.

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It’s a bit modern for my taste but except for the slightly out of control Euphorbia, the look is appealing and smart.  What I like the most is the incorporation of a lovely small tree, Azara microphylla, boxleaf azara.

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Is this a tree, or is this a shrub?  Small tree, large shrub…  It is multi-stemmed, making it more shrub-like.  Tree or shrub, the same ecological function is served.  Since this blog is about trees, let’s just agree that it’s a tree.

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Azara adds verticality in this arrangement and is useful for screening, but is light and airy owing to the small leaves (evergreen!) and the open form. The foliage is attractive alone, but a bonus on this tree from Chile and Argentina are the small but strongly fragrant yellow flowers which I was too late to catch with my camera this year.

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I’m looking for one to plant in my yard where I need a companion that won’t upstage my crepe myrtle, nor block the morning sun but will provide some screening.  Since it would get the cold east wind in winter, I’m looking for the ‘Cold Hardy Form’ listed by Xera.

I was surprised to learn that this tree is a member of the willow family, Salicaceae. Whatever you choose to call it, tree or shrub, it’s nice to see this being planted more around Portland.  Here’s what you need to know if you want to plant Azara microphylla, from plantlust.

  • Eventual height of 15 to 20 feet
  • Evergreen with fragrant vanilla-scented yellow flowers, not showy
  • USDA zones 7b to 10b
  • variegated form ‘Variegata’ not quite as hardy, more slow growing, requires some protection
  • Some shade, but will take full sun with some summer water
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5 Responses to When is a tree not a tree?

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    At 15 to 20 feet, I’d call it a tree.

  2. Wow I’ve been blinded by the euphorbia and completely missed the tree…

  3. Gypsy Tucker says:

    I agree about the landscaping at that building. And from the number of weeds that sprout up amongst that euphorbia, I’d guess it’s pretty free of chemicals. Now I’m going to make friends with that tree the next time I drive by!

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