An evergreen tree up to 70 ft high with slender, drooping branchlets, but sometimes shrubby; glabrous in all its parts. Leaves lanceolate or narrowly ovate to narrowly elliptic, tapered at both ends, 1 to 2 in. long, 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. wide, medium green above, paler beneath, closely and finely saw-toothed; leaf-stalks slender, very short, scarcely differentiated from the narrowed base of the blade. Flowers greenish-white, small and inconspicuous, borne in clusters of commonly two to five in the leaf-axils of the previous year’s growth, mostly unisexual but both sexes borne on the same plant. Fruits capsular, the size of a pea, with two seeds, each enclosed in a red aril.
A native of Chile from Coquimbo province to about 42° S.; and of Argentina, where it is perhaps more numerous than in Chile and extends along the eastern side of the Andes from S. Neuquen to Chubut province; also of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil; introduced in 1829, though the present stock in Britain probably derives from seeds collected in Chile by H. F. Comber and by Clarence Elliott in the mid-1920s. It is rare in cultivation, but there is a specimen measuring 30 × 21⁄2 ft at Wakehurst Place, Sussex (1968), and a smaller one at Highdown, near Worthing, growing on chalk. Bushy plants are quite hardy at Jermyns House, near Romsey, Hants, and bear fruit. At Lanarth in Cornwall it has produced self-sown seedlings.
The maiten is an interesting evergreen and as a tree makes an elegant specimen with an oval crown and drooping branches. It is a beautiful feature of pasture-lands in the lower Andean valley of Central Chile and is a light-loving species, not found in the temperate rain-forest. It has a considerable geographical range and so is likely to vary in hardiness; trees from seeds collected in Argentina might prove hardy even in inland districts.
Cattle have a great liking for the leaves of the maiten, so much so that, according to Molina, who described the species in 1782, they will look at no other forage when these are within reach. Hence the specific epithet boaria, meaning of or for cattle.
M. magellanica (Lam.) Hook. f. Cassine magellanica Lam. – This allied species makes a smaller and more erect tree than M. boaria, and has a more southern distribution. The leaves are usually relatively wider, thicker, more strongly toothed, but the most reliable distinction appears to be that the seed is enclosed by the aril only in the lower part. This species was cultivated by Collingwood Ingram at Benenden Grange, Kent, raised from seeds that he collected from a street-tree at Puerto Montt, Chile. In the specimen he sent us, the fruits are mostly borne singly in each leaf-axil, the seed-coat is red and the aril orange-yellow. The leaves are dull above, leathery, mostly 11⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide. This plant died from drought in the autumn of 1971. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 668.
The genus is also represented in cultivation by M. chubutensis (Speg.) Lourteiz, O’Donell & Sleumer, a dense, dwarf evergreen shrub with thick, broad-elliptic to broad-ovate leaves 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. long, 3⁄16 to 5⁄16 in. wide, covered with short, stiff hairs above, rendering them rough to the touch. Flowers small, reddish, borne singly or in clusters in the leaf-axils. It was introduced by Comber from Neuquen province, Argentina, in 1926 and distributed under the erroneous name Myginda disticha Hook. f. He described it in his field notes as a low shrub 1 to 2 ft high, growing with Nothofagus antarctica at 3,500 to 4,000 ft. The true Myginda disticha, which has been transferred to Maytenus as M. disticha (Hook. f.) Urban, is closely allied to M. chubutensis and occurs in similar habitats, but has narrower leaves, smooth or softly downy above. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 635.