An evergreen (more rarely semi-deciduous) shrub or small tree, of suckering habit, glabrous in all its parts. Leaves entire, very variable in size and shape even on the same individual, obovate, oblong-elliptic or lanceolate, rounded or acute at the apex, up to 6 in. (rarely more) long, 3⁄5 to 11⁄5 in. wide, dark glossy green above, paler and greyish green beneath; leaf-stalks 1⁄5 to 2⁄5 in. long. Flowers brilliant crimson-scarlet or orange-scarlet, borne in May-June in terminal and axillary racemes; pedicels slender, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long; the floral envelope is not differentiated into calyx and corolla but consists of a perianth which is at first tubular through most of its length but ovoid at the apex, and splits during flowering into four strap-shaped, recurved segments; stamens four, sessile, borne in the cup-shaped tips of the segments; ovary narrow, with a long style. Fruit a follicle, woody when mature, crowned by the persistent style and containing numerous winged seeds.
Native of Chile and bordering parts of Argentina, from about 370 S. to Tierra del Fuego; first named from a specimen collected during Cook’s second voyage; introduced by William Lobb in 1846 when collecting for Veitch. It inhabits open places, often forming extensive thickets, and ranges from the sea-coasts to the tree-line. At high altitudes and on exposed headlands it is reduced to a small bush; in favourable situations it makes a tree to about 30 ft high, attaining its largest dimensions in the island of Chiloé, but in cultivation (in Cornwall and Ireland) it has reached almost 50 ft in height. It yields a prettily marked timber which, owing to the scarcity of large specimens, is mostly used in turnery.
E. coccineum is very variable in shape and size of leaf. During their journey in S. America in 1777-88 Ruiz and Pavon collected in the coastal range near Concepcion a plant with long, narrow, pointed leaves, which they named E. lanceolatum, but this is linked by intermediates to the typical form with shorter, relatively broader leaves, rounded at the apex. South American botanists relegate this species to synonymy under E. coccineum and there is no reason to dissent from this judgement.
There have been many introductions of E. coccineum, of which only the best known are treated here.
1. The original introduction by William Lobb first flowered in Veitch’s Exeter nursery in 1853 and is figured in Bot. Mag., t. 4856. Leaves oblong-elliptic, 21⁄2 to 3 in. long, rounded at the apex; axillary racemes not so freely produced as in the later introductions. The seed was probably collected near Valdivia, on the island of Chiloé, or the mainland facing it.
2. The Veitchian collector Richard Pearce sent seed in 1860-2 but little is known of this introduction except that the flowers were of a different colour from that of Lobb’s plants. Thanks to the more settled conditions, Pearce was able to penetrate farther inland than Lobb did, but the origin of the seed is not known.
3. The long-leaved form generally known as “E. longifolium” or “E. coccineum var. longifolium” was apparently first cultivated at Rostrevor, Co. Down, at the beginning of this century and was first distributed in England by Messrs Marchant in the 1930s. It was given a First Class Certificate when shown by them in 1948. This is a vigorous and fast-growing form with orange-scarlet flowers produced freely all along the shoots. It agrees well with the E. lanceolatum of Ruiz and Pavon in having long, narrow leaves, pointed at the apex but very much shorter, relatively broader leaves on the spurs. It should be added that similar plants are reported from Cornwall which may be of independent origin.
4. Outside the older gardens of the west and south-west, E. coccineum is now mainly represented by the hardy forms introduced by H. F. Comber from the Andes in 1926-7. The seed was collected near the northern (equatorward) end of the range of this species, in the Argentine province of Neuquen, at 3,000 to 5,000 ft altitude. Here the climate is harsher and drier than it is on the Pacific Coast – a fact which helps to explain the hardiness of Comber’s plants and their semi-deciduous habit. They are variable in foliage, but generally the leaves are rather small and narrow-lanceolate and the racemes are produced all along the branches. Seed under C.387 was collected near Pulmari (390 10’ S., south of Lake Aluminé) and in the Norquinco Valley, west of that village. C.774 was collected a little farther south, in the area of San Martin de los Andes. A plant raised from C.387 was given an Award of Merit when a branch from it was shown from Bodnant in 1947 as E. lanceolatum ‘Norquinco form’. In this plant the racemes are set so close together on the branch ‘that it looks as if the tree had donned a number of scarlet “Plus Fours”’ (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 73, p. 380 and fig. 139).
Perhaps no tree cultivated in the open air in the British Isles gives so striking and brilliant a display of colour as does E. coccineum. It needs a moist, not too heavy, lime-free soil and a position sheltered from cold, drying winds but not too crowded and shaded by neighbouring trees (it is not in nature a plant of the forest and needs abundant light if it is to flower freely). It is propagated by seeds or suckers.
No colour-variants have occurred in cultivation but according to Dr Carlos Muñoz (Flores Silvestres de Chile, Santiago, 1966) a white-flowered form is known and yellow-flowered plants occur in one locality in the Chilean province of Curacautin.