The Copihue (Co Pee Way) is the national flower of Chile, and this is the Spanish form of the name by which it is known by the local people. In the language of the Mapuche people it is Kolkopiw
The plant was first described for science in 1802 by Hippolyto Ruiz and Josepho Pavon, plant collectors in South America, and published their Flora Peruviana et Chilensis they chose to name the Genus Lapageria after Napoleon Bonarpartes wife Josephine, her Maiden name having been Lapagerie. She was a great patron of Horticulture. Originally placed in the Liliaceae or Lily family it now resides in Philesiaceae. along with Philesia a related Genus.
Lapageria did not arrive at Kew until 1847, when an American gentleman, Mr. R. Wheelwright (a ship owner) presented a plant obtained from Concepcion, Chili, It cause quite a stir but Kew were reluctant to give away any propagating material. The Veitch nursery therefore instructed their collector William Lobb to obtain seed and as a result plants were commercially available in the UK from about 1849 on. Seed would have been readily available in the markets of Chile where the small fruits called Pepino were sold. Since 1977 this trade has largely died out when Lapageria rosea became a protected species.
There are several legends in Chile relating to the origin of the Copihue. One tells of how, after a great battle of the Mapuche people, some survivors climbed trees to see the outcome of the battle. Seeing that all their friends were dead, they wept, and their tears became flowers of blood, to honour the souls of their dead friends.
Another legend tells of two children of the leaders of the Mapuche people: Hues, the daughter of Copiniel, the leader of all the Mapuches; and Copih, the chieftain of the pehuenche tribe. The two young people secretly fell in love. One day, Copiniel found them exchanging vows on the banks of the Nahuel lake, and, in a fit of rage, ordered them both stabbed through the heart by spears. His guards obeyed, and the two lovers were killed, fell into the lake, and disappeared in the water.
Some time later, both the Mapuche and Pehuenche tribes met on the banks of the lake to mourn the deaths of the two. At sunrise, they saw two spears rise from the water, intertwined by a vine, on which grew two large flowers, one as red as blood, and the other as white as snow. They called these flowers Copihue, in honour of the two lovers, Copih and Hues.
There were a number of named seedlings raised during the 1800's in England, 'Nash Court' being the only survivor and with this it is now difficult to be sure that the plants you see are the original, certainly most specimens have slightly larger flowers than typical wild seedlings, but is not the most free flowering of plants, so its possible that all we have now are seedlings of the original? The original plant at Nash Court no longer exists to compare with.
During the 1800's the enthusiasm for growing these caused the building of many "Lapageria house" (essentially a cool greenhouse) few of these structures now survive on the great estates and I am not presently aware of any still employed for their original purpose.
See Rennie Moffat's pages for the next flurry of interest
Today there are still pockets of interest in these hard to please
climbers, Tregrehan in Cornwall has large plants of pink, white and red
growing both under glass and outside the walled garden.