California Horticultural Society Journal
July, 1964 Vol. XXV, No. 3
Our story on Lapageria rosea is one of the most interesting to come to our attention for some time. Mr. Elbert E. Reed, the author, resides now in . Stockton, California, after spending much of his life as a horticulturalist in the Methodist Church Farm, "El Verge!," in Chile. Through his acquaintance with Paul Hutchison, Senior Botanist at the University of California, Berkeley, Botanic Garden, that Garden has acquired a number of lovely, and different, color forms of the Copihue which Mr. Reed helped to establish at E! Vergel. And it was through Mr. Hutchison that we acquired this fascinating story by Mr. Reed. We thank them both.
Chilean Bellflower, Copihue, Lapageria rosea by Elbert E. Reed
Those who see for the first time, a flowering plant of this lovely vine, whether in a garden or in the shaded forests of southern Chile, are drawn by the exquisite beauty of the lily-shaped, rose to red hanging bells. The flowers are usually three to four inches in length, and more or less flared into a trumpet-shape, the inside being usually heavily speckled with a lighter shade of red. The leaves are somewhat heart-shaped, elongated into a narrow, pointed tip which curls back and to one side, in color they are a deep, shiny green, contrasting vividly with the bright red flowers.
Reed counting out lentil seeds
Picture from "A Garden of Paradise" by Lawrence Reed
Celebrated in song and verse, the "Copihue" is the National-flower of Chile and greatly loved by all Chileans. It is to be found wild in the hills of the coast range of Chile, and in some parts of the Andes, from approximately thirty-four to forty-one degrees latitude south. That is approximately from the Mauie River to Lake LJanquiihue. It is most frequently found in ravines and on shaded hillsides, climbing through the branches of the larger shrubs and the smaller trees. Traveling along wooded roads or waterways one is greeted constantly by the sight of the hanging flowers amidst the dark green foliage of trees and vines. In the denser forests one may trip over the wiry stems, while a glance upward brings into view, yards above, the twining masses of vines and foliage and scattered flowers.
As the forests which once covered the hills and mountains of the area mentioned have largely been cut and then are repeatedly burned, that area now presents a very different aspect from that of the past. However, two of the trees most associated with the Lapageria are able to survive following fire, mainly through sprouts from the trunk or base of the tree. New sprouts from the base of Lapageria plants accompany those of the trees, which serve for support. Such vigorous new growth often results in early fall flowering of gorgeous strings of fifteen to thirty flowers of large size and brilliant color. The twining of the stiff stems of the vine around the branches of the trees gradually produces a partial strangulation and serpentine swelling of the branches, a condition that often occurs with Guevina aveliana and Persea lingue, two of Chile's loveliest woods.
In the wild Lapageria is seldom found in any color other than red. Of these, great quantities are gathered. The railroad station Antilhue in Valdivia Province is famous for the tight bunches of "Copihues," each surrounded by crowns of wild fern leaves, that are peddled on the platform. The insides of the cars of thetrains become festooned with the bouquets all the way to Concepcion and Santiago ending up in many of the flower stores of those cities.
The farm El Verge!, near Angol (400 miles south of Santiago), was purchased by the Methodist Church in 1919, from the aging Chilean, Manuel V. Bunster, known for many years as an enterprising farmer, fruit grower, and nurseryman, On going to that institution in 1919, as horticulturist, the writer soon became interested in Lapageria. Three mature plants existed in the farm's nursery collection at that time, of which one was the common red. Another plant produced pure white flowers of good and substance. The third gave flowers which were white, speckled with lavender-pink, especially on the three inner tepals. The outer tepals carried little of the pinkish coloring over the white, but in cooler weather they were sometimes of a strong cream, almost yellow, especially in the center. The three color forms were given the designations, No. 1 - White; No, 2 - White with lavender, and No. 3 - Common Red.
The nursery had the custom of harvesting the seed of both the red and the white and selling the seedlings as "red" and "white" plants, without question.
An effort was made to produce No's, 1 and 2 as clones, using the layering procedure mentioned later. Plants of the "white" seedlings were set aside and grown out to flowering, a matter of four to six years minimum. All produced red flowers, but a good share of them were of less intense red color than the usual, giving the impression that they were possibly hybrids. With that experience all sales of seedlings other than of the red was stopped.
Comparatively little has been done at El Vergel in the way of hybridization. Out of some crosses made by the head gardener many years ago one lovely shell-pink was selected. It is now being sold as No. 9 - Flesh-Pink. In the same crosses numerous white-flowering plants appeared, mostly inferior to No. 1. They were more like the few white-flowering plants that the writer has seen in the wild—slightly smaller than No. 1, with the flower narrower and of less fleshy petals, and just a tinge of pink near the stem.
The few known sources of white Lapageria in the wild will quickly become lost if their locations become known to an avid public which is bent on obtaining the White Copihue at ail costs. The one cluster of such plants examined by me was located in a grove of second-growth timber reserved by the owner, a farmer, less than a mile from the city of Puren, some 30 miles southwest of Angol. That was over 30 years ago and since then the owner has died and the grove has been cut down.
Occasional stories were heard of lovely color forms known to exist in "certain localities." Most stories seemed to center on the city of Chilian it was said that the plants originated in the small town of Cobquecura on the Pacific coast, a little-to the north of Chilian. Little information was available as to how to get there across the coast range, at least 30 miles from the nearest railroad. The roads, such as they were, were all dirt.
In February 1929 a trip was organized and I headed for Cobquecura accompanied by a fellow missionary friend from Concepcion, Mr, Walter Miller. The railroad line from Concepcion toward Chilian left us at the town of Coeiemu, on the Itata River. From there a taxi was obtained willing to make the trip north as far as Quirihue. A lucky break produced a nearly worn-out truck willing to cross the coast range to Cobquecura over abominable roads.
Cobquecura turned out to be a delightful village cuddled up against the hills of the coast range, about half a mile from the sandy beach. The people of Cobquecura were friendly and curious as to what these strangers were there for. They were largely pure Spanish, descendants of families which had moved In there years before and loved it too much to leave.
The word soon got around that our quest was for Copihues, Directions led first of all to the Larenas family, which turned out to consist of two old spinster women and one chair-ridden old man. All were in their eighties. Their father had started collecting the Copihues that the woodsmen of the hills brought down to the town. Their memories were so hazy that it was impossible to piece the picture together, but is seemed that the original Sr. Larenas must have started the collection at least by 1880, and more than likely one or two decades earlier. In the garden back of the house were found close to twenty color forms, including a selected type of pure red, several whites, pinks in several shades, the white with lavender shadings (Vergel No. 2), two types of white with streaks of red, and one type of cream color.
A simple system of propagation had been used for many years. A strong stem was loosened somewhat from the old plant, without separating the intertwining branches. A loop of that stem was set on about two inches of soil in the bottom of a box eight or nine inches square and about ten inches deep. The box was then completely filled with soil and set on top of another box, to stay there for the two or three years necessary to form a well-rooted plant. Usually no stem growth appeared until the second year, at the earliest.
Between fifteen and twenty plants were purchased, including about ten
No. 4 - Very vigorous plant and the most heavy-flowering of the entire collection. Flowers 2 .25 inches to 3 inches in length with little flare at the open end; color white with heavy speckling of lavender, especially on the inner tepals, and streaks of red on the outer tepals, Leaves somewhat curly.
No, .5 - Flowers large, with little flare at the open end color white with red striping on the margins of the tepals especially the outer ones. This is perhaps the most sought-after color form.
No. 7 - Pure white. Broader and more open than No. 1.
No, 8 - Cream with a faint greenish tinge. Occasionally has small blotches of light red.
No. 10 - Salmon. Also designated as peach colored." This color form shades from pink at the stem end- to faintly blushed at the open end,
No. 11 - Delicate Pink. In warm weather this color form is practically white. With the arrival of cooler weather in the early fall months the stem end of the flower takes on a very delicate pink blush. The flower is one of the finest in size and form in the collection making it over-all one of the choicest.
In addition to these color forms, which are under propagation, several more are
under observation. Some of these are the products of hybridization, carried on largely with the help of Dr. Diliman S. Bullock who for many years was the director of the El Verge! Agricultural School, now Director Emeritus, and Director of the Museum D. S. Bullock at E! Vergel, Though the vast majority of the hybrid seed collected gave poor germination, there have been some crosses which have given vigorous plants. Of these, several plants have been
set aside for observation. Some plants have come also from selfed flowers, especially the No, 10, which appears to be a hybrid between red and white, giving approximately 25% white seedlings, very similar to those of the wild. The remaining seedlings produce flowers of various shades of red. In the collection there are also two plants with "double" red flowers having nine to twelve tepals, These were obtained from the farm Tumbes located on the peninsula to the .north of Talcahuano, belonging to the Sweet family and were discovered by them.
One of the most interesting variations of the Copihue ever observed was on the occasion of the trip to Cobquecura. The collection of plants under propagation on the Larenas lot in that town was set up in fence rows somewhat like a grape vineyard. However, they had one plant set apart beside the porch of their house, it was small, for they had received it only recently. As usual the plant had been brought to them by someone from the hills back of the town. Its flower color was one of the most unusual seen to date, as was its shape and size, for it was at least four inches in length with long, tapered tepals that flared out but very little at the ends. The color was white, blushed and streaked with light purple around the center of each tepal. A stem piece was acquired at the time but the attempt at rooting it was not successful. Later inquiries brought word that in the terrible earthquake of January 1939 the house fell down and the plant was destroyed.
In January 1950 another visit was made to Cobquecura. By that time the former secluded and quiet village was a developing seaside summer resort area. The Larenas family had disappeared; their large comer lot with its magnificent collection of Copihues was being used as a farm barnyard. The remains of a few of the most sturdy plants were still to be found. The present owner is a nephew of the old people we contacted in 1929. An enthusiastic word left with him as to the value and importance of renovating and reestablishing The collection was all that could be done toward the preservation of perhaps the most important effort started anywhere in the collection and propagation of the Chilean National Flower.
Another striking color form was obtained recently. For some years there were rumors about a "black" Copihue. Its whereabouts seemed to shift like those of a proverbial ghost. Leads ended at the farm of friends near the town of Contulmo, beside Lake Lanalhue, just over the mountains from Puren, There the Grollmuss family had been hunting the Copihue on the hillsides and ravines of their farm for many years and growing them there, in an environment very favorable to the plant. Climbing over their front porch was a magnificent plant covered with flowers of the darkest, most solid red ever observed. The shade is at least as dark as mahogany and of a dull finish. Two or three short stem pieces were obtained and are now rooted and growing at El Verge!. The Grollmuss family has other plants which were found on their land, but this is the only outstanding one.
About 1930, after some exchange of correspondence relating, to her work with the Copihue, a visit was made to the home and garden of a Senora Rudloff of Valdivla. She had two interesting color forms different from those seen before. One was similar to the No. 2 at El Vergel, which is white with lavender markings on all six tepals. The same one has since been observed Osorno, further south. The other one was quite unusual, different from anything observed before or after. It was a uniform rosy lavender of very pleasing aspect, though not a large flower.
Senora Rudloff s lively and intelligent interest in the Copihue is further illustrated
by another activity. Over her kitchen stove were several pots with leaf cuttings (with a piece of stem) of the Copihue set in sand; the buds were already well swollen and root formation was starting. As propagation by that system had been carried out successfully a short time before at El Vergel it was very interesting to observe that it was done independently by this housewife and gardener.
Arrangements were underway for an exchange of plants with Senora Rudloff when the news came of her death. The garden passed to the ownership of another party who, according to reports, refuses to allow any but intimate friends to even see the plants. All attempts to establish contacts have resulted in failure.
Carelessness has led to the loss of many outstanding color forms of the Copihue. Repeated stories have been heard with regard to outstanding types which have been dug up in the forests and peddled for sale or transplanted without success by the discoverer, A high percentage of all plants dug up is lost.
Even the occurrence of new color forms in the wild now has decreased almost to the vanishing point, it is to be expected that only in areas where the white Copihue exists are there to be found many variations resulting from natural hybrids between the white and the red. The flowers do not self-pollinate readily; consequently the white Copihue, which apparently carries the recessive gene for color, and is usually surrounded by countless red plants, is reproduced rather rarely in nature. In addition, the constant search for white-flowering plants by humans reduces the chance for survival almost to the vanishing point. To make matters worse, the entire coast range area of Nuble Province in which this sector is located has been denuded of its natural cover of brush and trees. Although many spots have been planted to the Monterey Pine, far more of that hilly land has been left exposed and erosion has developed to such an extent as to make it probable the most scarred area of Chile.
Many years ago an extraordinary color form was lost, probably permanently, from the collection at El Verge!. This was of a deep red color and of good size, the three outer tepals flaring out at almost complete right angles half way down the flower. The original plant had been discovered by sons of Senior Juan Senn, near the town of Puren along the of a branch of the Puren River, some two or three miles to the north of the city, where the river winds through a narrow ravine with steep sides. After several attempts stems were finally collected and rooted. Only one plant was brought to flowering and even it finally disappeared mysteriously, probably through thievery. Every effort made since to locate the original plant has been fruitless. Evidently the plant died or was washed away by the eroding action of the river.
In gardens, Lapageria is usually trained on a trellis, taking care to provide the shade necessary to protect the stems and the base of the plant from excessive sunlight and heat. The growing tips are sensitive to drying winds and to frost, so care must be taken in the selection of locations for permanent planting. The plant can be grown in a container with relative ease, making it possible to protect it at al! times of the year when necessary.
The flowers have all the appearances of a lily. The three inner tepals are similar to the outer three, which enclose the inner ones while in the bud stage. In the fully opened flower all six are usually red and about the same length, though the inner three are broader and somewhat different in shape. In other flowers the patterns of colour and shape are often different between the two groups of Tepals.
The writer discovered, about forty years ago, upon his first attempt to propagate the plant by layering, another interesting characteristic of the plant, one which brings out its relationship with other members of the Lily Family, Several stems were buried for part of their length in a box., under one and one-half to two inches of soil, using the serpentine method for part of them, it was quite exciting to observe, a year or so later, the goodly number of sprouts appearing from under the soil, while few or none of the above-ground buds showed growth.
Upon lifting the stems from the soil it was discovered that abundant rooting had taken place; the roots and the sprouts were all produced from the original buds along the stem, but no mature stem had rooted. The writer has never a rooted stem, either from layering or cuttings. Once buried under soil or sand the buds go through an interesting transformation, swelling to several times their original size and taking on the appearance of a natural bulblet such as those which appear in the axils of the leaves of other lilies. After reaching the approximate size of a large pea, a strong shoot and one to four strong roots appear, all proceeding from the newly formed bulblet. Based on this plant habit a system of layering was devised, wherein two to four nodes are rooted together in individual boxes, making it possible to take off several sturdy plants from a good stem,
On many occasions the writer has been told by Chileans that Lapageria roots terminate in a bulb, deep in the ground. None of them had ever seen it, though somewhere on the root they had found a "sort of a swelling." When plants dug out of the forests were lost, the loss was always attributed to not having found the bulb at the end of the roots. Probably no such thing exists, for no bulb has ever been found by the writer or his assistants.
What does take place with Lapageria is the development of rhizomes around the crown of the plant, similar to those of an asparagus plant. From these rhizomes come the aerial growth, which is also similar to that of asparagus in the beginning, and of very rapid growth. They appear usually in early spring and again in late summer. They are very tender at the beginning, easily broken, and much sought after by slugs and snails. Frequently, the apparent lack of vigor and the poor sprouting of a sturdy plant is due to damage from these garden pests, which eat the tips of the new stems as fast as they appear.
As the plants increase in size and vigor, the rhizomes increase in number and length. It is not uncommon to find sprout appearing one to three feet or more from the main circle of sprouts. The latter will increase till there may be fifty or more, each of the original diameter, for there is no increase in diameter of stem with the passing years.
On one occasion in the woods many years ago, the writer sought to dig up a vigorous shoot which produced unusually lovely flowers. It proceeded from a rhizome which was followed in its windings amongst the rocks, ending up at the bass of a huge plant some 6-7 feet away without branch or sprout between. Where the sprout arose was a small swelling, such as is quite commonly found at that point, and the possible cause of the "bulb" idea. The stems produced by the most vigorous of these rhizomes occasionally reach about a third of an inch in diameter, and the rhizomes themselves about a half inch. The latter are hard, cream in color, and have very short nodes.
pollination. As the pollen does not ripen till after the pistil is past the receptive state, self-pollination is rare. Some insects undoubtedly visit the flower for the pollen itself, but botanists in Chile who have studied the situation conclude that insect pollination is almost out of the question. However, no flower in Chile is so regularly visited by humming birds. Their heads disappear within the flower as they seek the nectar deep down at the base, becoming thereby perfect agents of distribution of pollen from flower to flower. The fact that, even though they are abundant, the humming birds of California apparently have not learned to find the nectar of Lapageria probably accounts for the lack of fruit formation here.
The greenish pods of Lapageria are formed largely from the first flowers of late summer and mature about a year later. They are up to two inches in length and one inch thick, pale yellow when ripe, and contain a large number of light yellow
within a gelatinous substance. Birds devour most of the fruit which matures in the woods and children eat them with delight, and have caused the loss of many pods formed from hand crosses made in the gardens at El Vergel,
Though no scientific study has been made of the soil requirements of Lapageria, genera! observations indicate that the plant does best where the soil is at least mildly acid and well-drained. The plant seems at-its best in the, wild where its base is located in deep shade, and where the tips can get through the foliage of trees or shrubs and into the sunlight. In such locations the soil is usually shallow and rocky but covered with layer of forest duff, protecting the roots during the long summer drought. Shaded slopes in deep ravines in the moist air of coastal areas, or beside streams and lakes provide the natural environments of Lapageria. As such they are similar to those of Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias, In gardens it responds, on the whole, to similar treatment and will gladden the heart of the plant lover who provides for its needs.
in the fall of 1963, Mr. Reed visited the University of California Botanical Gardens and after observing the Lapageria plants there and returning to his home in Stockton, he wrote to Mr. Paul Hutchinson, Senior Botanist at the Gardens. Following are two paragraphs excerpted from that letter, which we believe are interesting relative to Mr. Reed's article on Lapageria:
"Before leaving the Botanical Garden, I took another look at the Lapageria rosea and other Chilean plants there and found it a most happy experience. Most of the plants of Lapageria were in flower, some of them profusely; and many showed the same vigor that is typical of their native habitat. You people are certainly to be congratulated on your success in producing a favorable environment for that plant, as well as for the others which seek an equivalent or even greater humidity,
"Fortunately I was approached in the Garden by Mr. Robert Scott. With him I had a very interesting conversation regarding the Lapageria and some of the other plants. He took me to the plant of Philesia which had several flowers on it and a very vigorous growth. That, plant is much more demanding of humidity than the Lapageria, so the excellent growth obtained speaks enthusiastically of your success. And it ties up with the observations in Chile that only in the proximity of the ocean can the plant be found in the wild. Of course the Philesia is to be found in the wild only in areas where the rainfall approaches or passes one hundred inches per year."