Plant 244

Fuchsia magellanica Lam. (Onagraceae)


Humming-bird fuchsia

In its native habitat, Fuchsia magellanica is pollinated by humming birds, hence the common name. However, nectar-robbing birds may chew through the base of the flower and reduce the chances of seed production by damaging the ovary. Another name, lady's eardrops, refers the pendulous crimson flowers of some Fuchsia species.

The genus is named after Leonhart Fuchs (1501-66), who amongst other things, was a doctor in Munich and in 1535 set up a botanical garden at the University of Tübingen. The specific name, magellanica is derived from the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile, one of its native areas.

Fuchsia magellanica grows as an upright, semi climbing shrub in the mountainous regions of Chile and Argentina but has been naturalised in other parts of South America, East Africa, New Zealand, Hawaii, Ireland and parts of southwest England. As the branches mature they develop flaking bark and the elegant flowers may come in a range of colours, with the calyx tube and sepals being anything from crimson to white or lavender, whilst the inner petals are usually violet purple. Plants can reach three metres in height, although less than 1.5 metres is more usual. Fuchsia magellanica is considered to be one of the hardy fuchsias, withstanding temperatures in the United Kingdom as low as -20 to -15 degrees Celsius when grown in the ground.

The first introduction to the United Kingdom was in 1788. The cultivar 'Riccartonii' is one of many cultivars and varieties, but is sterile, with dark crimson flowers and is found growing in western Britain and Ireland almost exclusively. It probably arose from a Scottish Nursery in about 1850. This cultivar is often used as a hedging plant in parts of the United Kingdom such as Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

Fuchsias succumb to pests such as fuchsia gall mite (Aculops fuchsiae). This species is native to Brazil, but since 1980 it found its way into the USA and spread to the United Kingdom in 2007. The mite is found mainly in the southern United Kingdom, but it will not survive temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius. This microscopic mite distorts the shoot tips and flowers, or the flowers fail to form.

Today, hundreds of hybrids are available in a huge array of colours and habits. Many of these are not hardy outside in the United Kingdom during the winter and need a frost-free conservatory or greenhouse to survive.

Further reading

Huxley A 1999. The New Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Groves Dictionaries Inc.

Oakeley HF 2012. Doctors in the Medicinal Garden. Plants named after physicians. Royal College of Physicians.

Baines T 1894. Greenhouse and stove plants. John Murray.

Lucinda Lachelin