Hebes – Introduction
Recent research suggests that the ancestor of the genus Hebe arrived in New Zealand in recent geological time, about 5 million years ago. The origin may be Australian or Asian. The greater number of Hebe species in the New Zealand mountains indicates that hebes started there and later colonised the lowlands.
There are about 100 species of hebes, the largest genus of flowering plants in New Zealand. Hebes are found throughout, from seashore to mountainside, from the semi-tropical north to the cool south and in high and low rainfall areas. They are found on both main islands of New Zealand, and on all outlying islands, in a variety of habitats. One species, Hebe rapensis, has been found on Rapa, in the Austral Islands of French Polynesia, midway between New Zealand and South America. Two species, Hebe elliptica and Hebe salicifolia, are found both in New Zealand and southern South America.
Hebes are evergreen plants, typically shrubs, although some species can be small shrublets and others trees. A prominent terminal leaf bud is seen on most hebes. Many hebes have their leaves in rows in opposite pairs; looking along the stem they form a cross. The flowers may be white, purple, pink or red, and are arranged in racemes, spikes or panicles.
Hebe is closely related to Veronica (commonly known as speedwell), their flowers are similar. Some species from Hebe have been transferred into Heliohebe and Leonohebe, although this has not yet been accepted in the UK. Parahebe is a subshrub that is mainly found in New Zealand, and is intermediate in form between Hebe and Veronica. Detzneria from New Guinea and Derwentiana from Australia are closely related to Hebe.
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