Looking out the window the other day, following the trajectory of a rufous hummingbird as it zipped toward a fuchsia, I was suddenly struck by the utter exuberance and floral bounty of this group of plants. At this time of year there are plenty of flowers blooming in the Botanical Garden—salvias, nasturtiums and the sunflower tribe are common subjects for late summer deliberations—but the fuchsia’s sheer persistence in flower production is nearly impossible to match in a cold-hardy garden plant. Fuchsia is a genus of about one hundred species of shrubs, climbers and trees native primarily to Central and especially South America (a few species are native to New Zealand and Micronesia). The genus name commemorates the German medical doctor and botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), which suggests the pronunciation ought to be fook-see-ah, rather than the more common, fyoo-shah.
Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’
Fuchsias are among the most recognizable of garden plants because of their unique flowers. These are usually borne singly or in pairs, hanging down on slender stalks amongst the newest growth throughout the summer, as long as conditions are good and the stems continue to grow. The flowers normally consist of a colourful, nectar-providing tube (often much elongated), four petaloid sepals that are usually the same colour as the tube, and that often reflex or at least flare outward, and a skirt-like cluster of petals inside and protruding past the sepals. The petals are typically of a contrasting colour to the sepals, and the skirt surrounds the “business” (pollen-producing and pollen-receptive) parts of the flower. These (the stamens and stigma, respectively) are often the same contrasting colour as the tube and sepals, and can be seen sticking straight out, beyond the skirt. Bees are attracted to fuchsia flowers, but in the New World species, the nectar tube, sepals, petals, stamens and stigma are all arranged in a manner attractive to pollination by hummingbirds. Successful pollination results in the production of purple-black berries that are both juicy and edible.
Fuchsia ‘Little Giant’ (L), Fuchsia ‘Pat’s Dream’ (R)
Coming as they do from more tropical climes, the vast majority of species are too tender for any garden use other than seasonal bedding. However, there are a few cold-hardy species, and from these, numerous hybrids have been made. At UBC Botanical Garden we grow both hardy species and a number of hybrids. The majority of the hardiest hybrids are similar in overall feel to Fuchsia magellanica, a tall-growing shrub from southern South America with willowy stems and smallish, slender flowers. Look for the elegant, long stemmed ‘Alba’ with its palest pink flowers and light green leaves, and the floral powerhouse known as ‘Little Giant’ (red tube and sepals with violet purple petals) as examples of this group. There are also many exceptionally hardy fuchsias that more resemble the bedding-type fuchsias, with sizable flowers, broader leaves and more compact growth. Standouts here include: ‘Pat’s Dream’ which has a red tube and sepals and lilac-purple petals; ‘Mrs. Popple’ a red tube and sepals and violet-purple petals; and ‘Dollar Princess’ which is much like ‘Mrs. Popple’, except that the petal skirt is fully double. Fuchsias are planted at the front entrance plaza, in the herbaceous borders and in the South American section of the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden. They are easy to locate. Just watch for the hummingbirds.
More photos can be found in our Forums.
Submitted by Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture & Collections, August 29, 2017