Nothofagus gunnii, the tanglefoot beech or deciduous beech, is a deciduous shrub native to Tasmania, Australia, where it is the only winter-deciduous plant. It grows in alpine and sub-alpine regions. Though capable of reaching a small tree, it rarely exceeds 2 m in height, instead growing as a thick shrub or as a woody ground cover hence the common name "tanglefoot".
The leaves are simple and alternate, growing 1 cm long. The leaf color is bright green, turning yellow, then brilliant red, in autumn. They are circular with deep veins which end in serrations. The flowers are inconspicuous yellow-green catkins. The fruit is a 6 mm capsule containing three small winged nuts. In most years seed production is poor, but once in a while a 'mast' crop occurs with high germination. The seeds have a very short viability.
Tanglefoot forests cannot survive fire, and must re-establish from neighbouring areas. They are very sensitive to changed conditions due to their slow growth. Only 100 km² of forest remain.
N. gunnii is difficult to cultivate, requiring around 1,800 mm of rain spread throughout the year, cool temperatures not below -10°C and requires full sun. It grows in deep peaty soils. It is best grown from fresh seed collected in a 'mast' year, germinating in a few weeks. It is believed that a beneficial mycorrhyzal fungus is required for the long term success of the plant. Cuttings can be struck, taken in late winter before bud burst.
N. gunnii is rarely seen in cultivation due to its poor performance and slow growing. It is believed to be an excellent plant for bonsai, if it can be kept alive long enough.
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- Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania - information.