Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Celebrating National Tree Week , March 5th – 12th. Part 2 

This small tree in the grounds of Fota is called Azara integrifolia var. brownea  but don’t walk past it if you’re hungry, on a diet or have a large, sweet tooth! The smell will stop you dead in your tracks and you’ll find yourself sniffing the air like a dog! Some people say chocolate and some say vanilla. Smell is a personal thing but whatever flavour you chose, it’s hard to believe that such a strong, compelling scent comes from this seemingly uninteresting and rather scraggly little tree. 

Azara integrifolia var. brownea in Fota 

Azaras are native to South America but surprisingly hardy in our sometimes unforgiving climate. They are evergreen trees (and sometimes shrubs)  which flower in March or February in milder places.


The glossy leave of the Azara integrifolia

Their small dark green, glossy leaves are about an inch long. The yellow flowers have no petals, just prominent stamens. These flowers appear in clusters in the leaf axils and are half hidden underneath the delicate branches. 


The delicate half-hidden flowers

To appreciate these flowers fully you have to lift up the branches. But this is partly what makes the tree so appealing. It reveals its treasures discretely. And in contrast to most other plants, you notice the smell before the colour. 

The fruit is a small one-seeded berry, about a quarter-inch long.  

This species growing is not a common one. There is very little reference to it on gardening sites or in books. But according to the International Plant Names Index,  Azara integrifolia var.brownea is linked to  Karl Friedrich Reiche, a German Botanist who spent many  years in Chile and Mexico.


Karl “Carlos” Friedrich Reiche 

From 1896 to 1911 he was the Director of the botanical section of the Chilean National Museum of Natural History  (Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Chile) in Santiago de Chile.

The International Dendrology Society refers to this Azara by saying that it “appears to differ chiefly from the type in the foliage. The largest leaves are up to 214 in. long by 114 in. wide and the margins are often furnished with one to four teeth at each side towards the pointed apex. The leaves are of obovate outline, the lower part of the leaf very much tapered (cuneate). Native of the Cordilleras de Santiago; named in 1893 after Senora Marian Browne.”

It also states that “it is rare, but is represented in the Glasnevin Botanic Garden by a specimen 6 ft high and 5 ft across.” The specimen at Fota could give the Botanic Garden tree a good run for its money! 


Photograph of Karl Reiche –