Pseudopanax is a genus of about twenty trees and shrubs found in China, New Caledonia, South America, and New Zealand. Fifteen of this species, most of which are capable of growing to a small-tree height are endemic to New Zealand. Houpara is a coastal species in its natural habitat and is often found in coastal forest, frequently associated with pohutukawa.
Houpara is a small spreading tree which grows steadily to 3m high in ten years, and to a maximum of 6m. The tree has stout upright branches tipped with crowding leaves on branchlets. The thickish coriaceous leaves are dark green on the surface and lighter underneath. They are comprised of three-to-five fingered leaflets tapered at both ends with an obvious mid-rib, and are broadly serrated near their tips.
P. lessonii are dioecious so male and female flowers grow on separate trees, blooming from December through February. The 5mm diameter flowers are yellow-green and in female trees are profuse, presenting most attractively. Fruit ripens to 7mm diameter oval deep purple or black fleshy berries over June and July, with each berry carrying five seeds. They are a welcome source of feed for birds during winter.
This attractive evergreen native will not tolerate heavy frosts but it is hardy and will sustain strong wind, salt, and drought, so is an excellent choice in exposed coastal situations. It responds well to pruning if done from young and is at its best when used as beautiful green screens, or as windbreaks, especially when mixed with similar plants.