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Desfontainia spinosa Ruiz & Pavon

Modern name

Desfontainia spinosa Ruiz & Pav.


D. spinosa var. hookeri (Dun.) Reiche; D. hookeri Dun.; D. spinosa var. chilensis (C. Gay) Reiche

An evergreen shrub 10 ft or more high in favourable localities, branches covered with pale, glabrous, shining bark. Leaves very like those of a holly, but opposite, 1 to 212 in. long, 34 to 112 in. wide, oval or ovate in the main, but armed at the edges with sharp triangular spines 18 to 13 in. long, shining dark green, glabrous; stalk 13 in. long. Flowers solitary on stalks 13 to 12 in. long, produced from July until late autumn. Corolla funnel-shaped, 112 in. long, 12 in. wide at the mouth, crimson scarlet, with five rounded, yellow, shallow lobes; calyx green, with five oblong lobes 13 in. long, edged with hairs; anthers five, with scarcely any stalk, attached at the base of the corolla lobes. Bot. Mag., t. 4781.

Native of the Andes from Colombia to the region of the straits of Magellan; described by Ruiz and Pavon in 1799 from plants collected by them in Peru; introduced by William Lobb from Chile in 1843 and again by Comber in 1925-6. In the northern part of its range in Chile this species grows in cool, mountain cloud-forests; farther south it descends to sea-level and ranges through the fiords and innumerable islands of the Pacific coast as far as the Magellan region, where the climate throughout is exceedingly moist and equable.

In cultivation it finds its most congenial conditions on or near the west coast of Scotland and in N. Ireland, where it grows to a great size. There are fine specimens at Stonefield, Argyll; Brodick, Isle of Arran; Inverewe, Wester Ross; and at Rowallane, Co. Down. The last is a remarkable plant 10 ft high, 32 ft across and 118 ft in circumference. In other parts of the country, wherever the climate is not too dry and continental, it grows and flowers quite well. It is, for example, hardy in an exposed position on the rock garden at Edinburgh. In the south there are two good specimens in the walled garden at Nymans in Sussex, raised from Comber’s seed. One of these was given an Award of Merit when a flowering branch was shown at Vincent Square in 1955; the flower colour differs somewhat from that of the older introduction, being vermilion shading to Orient Red.

Note: A word should be added about the varieties of D. spinosa recognised in some works. The description of the species by Ruiz and Pavon is accompanied by a plate (Fl. Peru. Chil., Vol. 2, t. 186) which shows a shoot with broad-oval leaf-blades 235 to 345 in. long, 115 to 45 in. wide, with seven to nine teeth on each side. There is nothing to match this in the Kew Herbarium, where the species is well represented by material collected throughout the Andes from Colombia to Chile. In this material the leaf-blades are mostly 135 to 2 in. long and 45 to 1 in. wide; very occasionally the odd leaf exceeds these dimensions and a few specimens have much smaller leaves. All have three to four teeth on each side, most often four, very rarely five. The calyx is variable; most often the segments are oblong-obtuse, but sometimes narrow and long-pointed as figured by Ruiz and Pavon.

D. spinosa var. hookeri (Dunal) Reiche rests on the figure and description of a plant collected by Bridges near the town of Valdivia, Chile (Hooker’s Icones Plantarum, Vol. 1, t. 33, 1836). It was published as D. spinosa but Dunal, who seems to have worked solely from the published figures and description, treated it as a distinct species, D. hookeri. It is clear, however, the var. hookeri represents the normal form of the species as found throughout the Andes (it is not confined to Chile) and can only be maintained as a variety if there is, in fact, a typical variety (var. spinosa) such as the plant in Ruiz and Pavon’s plate. D. spinosa was introduced by Lobb from Valdivia and this introduction would belong to var. hookeri if that variety were recognised.

D. spinosa var. chilensis (C. Gay) Reiche is a plant with relatively narrower, more oblong leaves and a smaller calyx, but the odd specimens with these characters are only part of the variation of the species and do not represent a distinct variety.



Other species in the genus

[No species article available]