flowers are sold in autumn in branches backed with fern leaves, in the
resorts of the south and taken to the markets of the principal cities
[of Chile]. This lovely flower makes quite a profitable income for
innumerable small peasant communities.
fruits, sweet and tender, called "cucumbers", are edible and
have a most agreeable flavour; they are sold in great quantities in the
towns in the south. The roots are used as a substitute for sarsaparilla
(Smilax sarsaprilla); unfortunately this habit is already beginning to
endanger the species.
the hot houses of Europe the Lapageria has been known since the last
century without ever having reached any significant importance in those
elite member of the Liliaceae family, the genus, of one species only,
was named after Napoleon's Empress Josephine, for her maiden name of
Lapagerie, in compliment to her for her many services to botany; she
greatly encouraged the cultivation of exotic plants by growing them
herself in her beautiful garden at Malmaison, near Paris.
Smith, Curator of the Royal Gardens at Kew, wrote in Curtis's Botanical
Magazine 'that not until 1847 were they favoured with a plant from
Conception (Chile), through the kindness of Rd Wheelwright Esq, an
American gentleman, who has been instrumental in establishing steam
navigation in the Pacific, and who thus enjoyed superior means for the
transport to England. The following year Messrs Veitch and Sons were no
less fortunate in importing it through their Cornish plant
collector Mr Thomas F. Lobb; but though extremely flourishing it still
had not flowered in 1849'.
to Ruiz and Pavon, El Copihue, an evergreen monocot, once called 'Copto',
and the national flower of Chile, derives its name from Chilean Indian.
'Deep in the earth a rhizome extends horizontally with knots and small
roots; from the knots grow the aerial shoots, the thickness of a feather
quill, at first tender like asparagus, but which harden later.
it is a terrestrial plant, but its search for the sun has enabled it to
evolve into a climber, which saves it from extinction in the darkness of
the impenetrable rain forests; the shoot grows vertically at first, with
no difference from non-climbing plants, but during its growth it
inclines laterally, taking a horizontal position; the free extreme
end is arched and makes circular movements in a clockwise direction
looking for a support; this circular movement originates from the
accelerated growth of the cells on the outer side of the shoot, while
those on the inner side are retarded.
phenomenal growth is the cause of the twisting, which allows the shoot
to attach itself to any suitable support and thus continue ever upwards
from left to right towards the sun; thus preventing vertical growth and
facilitating its novel method of climbing and attaching itself.
leaves are alternate and vary in size and thickness according to soil
and exposure to sun and wind; the leaf tip is turned down for
better drainage, and moss and lichen sometimes cling to the foliage
which avoids violent rainfall damage.
flowers of the Copihue, also known as Chilean Bellflower and Chile
Bells, appear singly in summer but in the autumn will often bloom in
clusters, from the axils of the upper leaves; the tiny bud shows little
promise of its future splendour; little by little the red colour
develops while the outer bracts retain some of their green colour; the
carmine-red waxy bells conceal the nectar sacs, which are finally
penetrated by birds with long pointed beaks, which thus pollinates the
flower. The birds will even approach flowers held in the hand so great
is the attraction of the honey.
red colour of the flowers is produced by a glucose substance in the
cellular juice; the lack of this sometimes results in white marks or
even completely white flowers'.
leaving Ruiz and Pavon and their delightful eighteenth century graphic
prose, we now come to the present century.
Rennie Moffat has had a great deal of experience in growing lapagerias.
He was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's long service medal in
1986 for 40 years' service. He worked at Penheale, Egloskerry, near
Launceston for Mr and Mrs Norman Colville, and is now retired.
Moffat grew several different clones: Lapageria rosea, Lapageria rosea
var. albiflora, Lapageria rosea 'Nash Court', Lapageria rosea 'Penheale',
Lapageria rosea 'Beatrix Anderson', and Lapageria rosea 'Flesh
Pink'. The reds varied in colour and markings on the flower segments; 'Penheale'
had much narrower leaves, with more tubular flowers and less reflex
of petals. The last two were grown from seed collected in the wild and
sent to the late Mr E. B. Anderson, chairman of the Alpine Garden
Society, when he had a garden at Balesmead, West Porlock, Somerset. He
gave Mr Moffat one seedling from a pot of red and another from a pot of
white. When the red clone flowered Mr Moffat showed it to Mr Anderson
who told him to call it after his wife, so 'Beatrix Anderson' it became.
The seedling from the white clone was named 'Flesh Pink'.
years Mr Moffat had been raising Lapagerias from cuttings and when the
nursery was started at Penheale some of these were sold to the RHS
garden at Wisley. Some time later his delivery boy was given some
Lapageria material from Wisley and a message to ask Mr Moffat if he
could propagate from it; although the material was far from ideal for
cuttings, Mr Moffat managed to get plants from each specimen. Besides
varieties he already had, these cuttings produced two different plants:
one was white with a rose pink edge and the other white with pink spots;
these were named 'Wisley Picotee', and 'Wisley Spotted.
Moffat has always grown some Lapageria plants out of doors with
polythene cover for winter protection; he also grows them in pots in a
cold greenhouse, where some of his stock plants have flourished for
more than 15 years. His plant mix is 6 parts peat, I part loam, 2 parts
grit, and wood charcoal which helps the drainage. He feeds them
regularly with liquid manure.
own experience is limited to 20 years or so, propagating from seed,
cuttings and layering, of which the latter is the most satisfactory from
a good clone; from seed you are liable to get variations, not always as
good as the parent. All these methods produce flowers in about three
years. I grow many in large containers and when I repot them, if I add
some cow manure to the mix, the Ruiz and Pavon 'long asparagus shoot'
(the 3-star favourite of all slugs, incidentally), will reward me,
Plants at Tregrehan
old garden in Cornwall, Tregrehan, near St Austell, also has stunning
Lapageria; they have been there for a hundred years or so, recorded
first in 1894, both the white and the red growing against east and north
facing walls, outside. Inside the old grape house are many different reds,
more or less spotted white, the beautiful pale pink, and whites, some of
which have green sepals and some pink. Recently many of these plants had
to be moved to allow repair and some timber replacement in the building;
the enormous amount of rhizomes in several huge root balls were carried
with some difficulty and replanted.
had a very pleasant surprise, when visiting America this summer, I was
prowling round some old greenhouses on the Hunnewell Estate, near
Boston, when I came upon a whole wall of Lapageria in full flower; the
blooms were white, flushed or irregularly striped with bright pink, a
colour combination I had not seen before. The head gardener thought they
had been sent direct from a friend of the family in Chile, about 100
years ago. Finding Lapageria to buy is not at all easy in England,
although they are listed in The Plant Finder here and there. Imagine my
astonishment when visiting Park Nurseries in Bristol where I gravitated
automatically past the camellias, (which I noted were exceptionally
good plants and a very good selection of varieties, including Camellia
sasanqua the autumn-flowering species), towards the climbers: next to
the clematis and flowering enthusiastically was a Lapageria 'Flesh
Pink' priced at a modest £8. It was a very good plant and I
bought it at once and asked the nurseryman where it came from; needless
to say, it came from Penheale as did all the camellias.
and Pavon's description of the Lapageria remarkable behaviour, written
in Spanish nearly 200 years ago, inclines one greatly to admire its one
track mind, one has to say almost, its thought process, which has
outwitted nature's thoughtless plans, careless for its survival. If
there is such a thing as IQ in the plant world, and I have long
suspected that there is, the Lapageria must rate very high. This
readiness to accommodate its ways has enabled it to choose where to
settle; fortunate indeed are its fervent admirers if they have chosen an
agreeable and fitting site for this capricious but wholly desirable