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This is a very interesting article on the Copihue in California by Leo C, Song, Jr. of Cal State University, Fullerton. It was originally published around 1981. Mr. Song has kindly granted permission for me to present it here. Some notes follow the article providing some updated information provided by Mr. Song.

Lapageria rosea. La Flor National de Chile

Lapageria rosea (Phileslaceae) is an all-too-rare vine in cultivation, but given the right conditions which are possible throughout much of the western United States where there is not an extremely hard frost, it can be grown successfully. Native to the cool and rainy southern portions of Chile, until recently it was thought that it could not be grown easily in California.

I first became acquainted with Lapageria on my travels to Chile beginning in 1967. It is the national flower and figures prominently in song and poetry. It is known commonly by its Araucanian Indian name, El Copihue.

History and natural range
Elbert E Reed of El Vergel
Christian Lambs article
Carlos Rendon at Berkeley
Rennie Moffat
Propagation methods
Pages from

Just outside of Angol, a small town in southern Chile, is El Vergel, the site of a Methodist school of agriculture, and home of the largest collection of wild and hybrid variants of Lapageria. One of the nursery's missions is to collect and propagate natural and hybrid Copihues. In the early 1960s the school's Director, Elbert Reed, retired and moved to Stockton, California. He took some plants with him. Others were sent to the University of California, Berkeley Botanical Garden.

A number of years later, I had the opportunity to visit with Elbert at his home in Stockton (located in the Central Valley of California, with its hot summers and cold, frequently foggy winters). He showed me a large Copihue that covered the northeast quarter of the house. It had been our understanding that even southern California would be too hot for it to grow well, let alone the Central Valley. I was able to purchase a few plants from him to try out at our lath house at Cal State Fullerton. The summer in Fullerton is much cooler than Stockton, so I anticipated little trouble from the heat. We later received most of his collection as a gift shortly before his passing. Our collection is named the Elbert Reed Memorial Copihue Collection.

His recommendations for best results was to keep the soil on the acid side and moist. Occasional feedings of blood meal also were beneficial. Saturated, soggy soils should be avoided at the crown level (the plant grows very much like Smilax, forming slender rhizomes).

Our cultural methods have been to maintain a highly organic and acid soil that did not compact upon aging. The plants are planted in a ground bed with a drain tile connected to the sewer system. Planting mix is made up of fine bark, peat, sand, and coarse perlite almost in equal parts. We have also begun to use spent orchid mix, greenhouse soil mix and redwood compost to refill the beds as the organic material disappears. The important thing to remember is to keep the mix open by including pumice and/or perlite so it does not compact. In-line fertilization is definitely helpful. (See note below.) ,

The best results have been obtained when the plants are grown with no other root competition and where the lower parts are partially shaded. Being a vigorous vine, a firm structure for climbing is a must. Our vines have grown up and out of the lath house-over ten feet, into full sun. Many of these leaves do not burn-even on hot days.

Flowers appear on shoots that are at least a year old at any time of the year. The flower is made up of three outer colored sepals or tepals and three inner petals. During warm summer months, especially warm nights, some varieties tepals fail to color up, remaining shorter, green and narrower. When the night temperatures fall into the low 50s (below 15 C), the petals become more firm and more intense in color. This is where some selective breeding and weeding out could be done.

Colors reported range from a dark blood red, pinks, ivory to snow white. Some are white with red edges. One variety we have is El Vergel #9 which is white in summer, but with cooler weather becomes a light pink: I know of a double red, and have heard of a double white. No odor is noticeable. Plants are normally pollinated by a long-beaked hummingbird. The native hummers try to get the nectar by working the flowers from the outside poking their beaks between the petals.

The plants are self-sterile, which means that in order to get seed, pollen from two distinct individuals (from different seeds) is required. Pollination can be effected once the pistil elongates beyond the stamens. An edible fruit (pepino) full of BB sized seeds and little else matures in about 4-6 months. Seed has germinated from fallen fruits, but growth seems to be slow. More work is needed in this area.

Vegetative propagation can be done by division of large clumps during the cool part of the year. Cuttings are difficult, but layering the tips of year-old-or-more shoots has worked. El Vergel uses serpentine layering (one bud above the soil, two below; one above, two below; etc.) in sand beginning in the fall. The buried bud first swells and forms a small corm-like structure from which the first roots emerge. This forms the basis of a new growing point. The time for the formation of the corm like structure may approach six months or more. Roots are not produced from the mother stem probably accounting for the failure of cuttings, unless a bud is buried. Given the time frame, the cutting usually exhausts its carbohydrate reserves and dies before reestablishing itself. We have not tried mist under cool, high-light conditions. Tissue/ meristem culture is also a possibility.

Some botanical gardens, including Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, and seed companies (Thompson & Morgan) occasionally sell plants. El Vergel offers material for sale, but I have not had contact with them for more than ten years. See below for varieties listed as of 1981.

Varieties & Hybrids of Lapageria, El Vergel Nursery

No. Araucanian Name Spanish Name/English Translation

1 Ligtomu Nube Blanca/White Cloud

2 Nahuelbuta Leon Grande/Big Lion

3 Colcopiu Copihue/common red

4 Collinge Mejilla Roja/Red Cheek

5 Relmutral Arco Iris de la Cascada/Waterfall Rainbow

6 Contulmo Sangre de Toro/Bull's Blood

8 Raimilla Flor de Oro/Gold Flower

9 El Vergel

10 Cobquecura Pan de Piedra/Breadrock

11 Rayen Flor/Flower

12 Colibri not translated

13 Toqui Jefe de Caciques/Araucanian? Chief

14 Angol Angol (named after the city of Angol in Chile)

15 Quelipichun not translated

16 Caupolican Piedras Preciosas/Precious Stones (Named after a famous

Araucanian chief)

Colors by Number and Comments

1 Pure white and floriferous. DC Berkeley has under English name-White Cloud."

2 White with the interior petals splashed with violet.

3 Common red with white spots.

4 White with the edges of the petals splashed with red and purple; flower medium in size; very floriferous.

5 White with red rib in center; large flowers.

6 Very intense and dark red. Here at Cal State, it is less dark and the outer sepals do not elongate with the petals during warm weather.

8 Cream-ivory cream.

9 Reddish pink during cool weather, white during warm. Vigorous grower for us and floriferous.

10 White with salmon red "orange."

11 Pink tinted with white. Large, wide flowers. Very light pink during warm weather.

12 Small pallid pink flowers.

13 Large white flowers.

14 Pallid pink flowers with orange tint.

15 Double red flowers.

16 Very large flowers; intense red on vigorous stems. Highly recommended.

19 Large pallid pink flowers.

At Cal State, we have #3,6, 9 and some good pinks that were no doubt hybrid seedlings between varieties grown by Elbert Reed in Chile. Comments on colors, habit and names were from the El Vergel catalog produced in the late 1960s and from a letter in 1981.


From an e-mail from Dr. Song in March, 2000:

I still have some Lapagerias, but not as many as before. A mushroom fungus got into the medium and many plants died. The fungus rendered the medium water repellent. Only a dark pink (quite vigorous) and a very dark red remain in the bed which has been amended with lots of peat moss. This seems to have solved the problem. I got a seedling off of No. 9 which has almost white flowers, but it is still a small plant. A professor here in Biology went to Chile several years ago and brought back some fresh seed. These were cleaned and planted immediately and germinated very well. We are now getting twiners on some. He also brought back some No. 3 (Common Red).

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