One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1US. A large evergreen shrub, Adenostoma sparsifolium (family Rosaceae), found chiefly in the chaparral of southern California, with needle-like leaves and grey shredding bark; also called redshank.
2Chiefly NZ. Any of several New Zealand trees of the genera Plagianthus and Hoheria (family Malvaceae) having fibrous inner bark; especially P. regius (formerly P. betulinus) and Hoheria sexstylosa.
Mid 19th century; earliest use found in Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country. From ribbon + wood, so called on account of the appearance of the bark.
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