A genus of evergreen composites notable on account of their mostly climbing habit and showy flower-heads, inhabiting various tropical and temperate parts of S. America, especially Chile, where according to Reiche, the author of a flora of that country, thirty-four species are to be found; altogether about sixty species are known. The leaves are alternate and in one cultivated species, M. clematis, they are pinnate; in all the others we grow the leaves are simple, varying from broadly elliptical to linear and from deeply toothed to entire. The midrib is very frequently prolonged into a tendril, sometimes branched. The flowers are crowded in ‘heads’, as is the case with all composites, and they are terminal, their beauty depending mainly on the ray-florets, which are often beautifully and brilliantly coloured.
Most of the species are only suited for the milder parts of the country and even there are not easily kept in health for a long term of years, although in certain places they go on indefinitely (see note on M. decurrens). Some are apt to die off suddenly without any apparent cause. M. clematis is an exception and quite amenable to cultivation. Often they grow wild pretty much as the honeysuckle does in our English copses, scrambling over other shrubs. They probably prefer to have their roots and main-stems in the shade, but the younger parts in full sunshine. A perfectly drained light sandy loam, with which stones are freely mixed, is recommended by those who have succeeded best with them.
The genus was named after José Celestino Mutis (1732-1808), who became professor of anatomy at Madrid, and in 1760 accompanied the Marquis Della Vega to Colombia, where he directed the royal botanical expeditions which explored most of the Spanish territories in the New World. Mutis wrote a flora of Bogota, for which 6,000 folio paintings were made. This was not published in his lifetime, but during the years 1954-63 four sumptuous folio volumes with Mutis’s text and coloured plates was issued and more are to follow. The genus was named after him by Linnaeus the younger.
Revised with the assistance of Mr C. Jeffrey of the Kew Herbarium.